Tunisia: American First Blooding

After the Allied Task Forces’ amphibious landings, an overland assault from Algeria was necessary to seize the Tunisian ports of Bizerte and Tunis, since the Axis air presence in Tunisia and Sicily had negated a simultaneous seaborne landing to achieve those objectives. Five German fighter groups and dive-bombers had transferred to Tunisian airfields since November 8, 1942. Although Tunisia was relatively small, extending only 160 miles east to west and 500 miles north to south, it was still more than 400 miles from Algiers, from which Lt. Gen. Kenneth Anderson’s Eastern Task Force troops would have to begin their overland advance.

The overland advance was scheduled to begin on the night of November 24, and Anderson’s force was made up of the British 78th Infantry Division, under the command of Maj. Gen. Vyvyan Evelegh, and an armored division, along with several smaller supporting American armor and reconnaissance contingents. This force would attack on three axes. The first objective was Tunis, followed by the encirclement of Bizerte to compel its surrender. The British troops were divided into three infantry brigade groups (IBGs). In the north, toward Bizerte, the 36th IBG would advance along a road 10 miles inland from the sea. In the south the 11th IBG would be 40 miles inland and advance in a northeasterly direction toward Tunis. A third IBG, Blade Force, would move in between the other two units, 20 miles inland, and meet with the 11th IBG near Tebourba, due west of Djedeida, for the continued eastward advance toward Tunis.

The first clash with Axis forces occurred on November 16 at Djebel Abiod, with the enemy retreating toward Bizerte after losing eight tanks. Despite this, the Allied attack commenced as scheduled. The 11th IBG was stopped at Medjez el Bab along the southern axis; however, the Germans retreated within twenty-four hours and the town of Tebourba was taken on November 27, with Axis forces withdrawing to Djedeida. Blade Force’s 100 American and British tanks moved east at sunrise on November 25. The initial American-German armor engagement occurred on November 26 at Chougui, north of Tebourba, with the enemy again retreating after several tanks were knocked out on both sides. After a delay the 36th IBG started its advance on November 25–26 and ran into fixed enemy defensive positions on November 28, 30 miles to the west of Bizerte, at Djefna.

Axis defenses were stiffening, which subsequently stalled the advances of the 11th and 36th IBGs. Panzer Mk VI (“Tiger”) tanks made their combat debut at Djedeida, 13 miles to the west of Tunis, proving their superiority over extant Allied armor. German air squadrons enjoyed local superiority due to hard-surface airfields east of the Atlas Mountains and more favorable weather, enabling them to attack Allied armor and infantry columns, thereby impairing their mobility, which was a factor that Eisenhower and his local commanders had counted on. Axis counteroffensives in early December from Djedeida pushed back to just east of Medjez el Bab along the southern axis while inflicting losses of roughly 500 tanks and vehicles as well as 70 artillery pieces. More than 1,000 Allied troops became prisoners of war.

Nonetheless, General Anderson planned to continue his attack on Tunis to commence on December 22, 1942. After reinforcements arrived, almost 40,000 Allied troops, now including French forces, would strike at fewer than 25,000 Axis combat troops under the command of German general Walter Nehring’s XC Corps. Elements of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and British Coldstream Guards advanced up the lower ridges of Longstop Hill, which was the dominant terrain feature controlling the river corridor to Tunis, on December 22 during heavy rain. However, on December 24, a German counterattack halted the Allied advance up the slopes, and within forty-eight hours a withdrawal was ordered, with more than 500 casualties. The Allies’ highly anticipated “race for Tunis” ended in failure.

Now the Allies would have to wait for better weather since the vital need for improved air support to aid the newly formed British First Army in the north, comprising five divisions (with the British 6th Armored and 78th Infantry Divisions as the current nucleus), to fight the Axis armies had become readily apparent. Also, Maj. Gen. Lloyd R. Fredendall would command the U.S. II Corps in central Tunisia, which was to include regiments from the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions as well as infantry from the 1st, 3rd, 9th, and 34th Divisions that moved up from their Moroccan and Algerian landing zones. Eventually the French XIX Corps, after being equipped by the Americans and under the command of Gen. Louise-Marie Koeltz, would be stationed between the British First Army and Fredendall’s U.S. II Corps.

Also in December 1942, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, commander in chief (C-in-C), South (in control of Tunisia and Rommel’s Axis forces retreating through Tripolitania), activated the German 5th Panzer Army, under Gen. Hans-Jürgen von Arnim. This 5th Panzer Army would comprise the 10th Panzer Division near Tunis; an armored division under Col. Friedrich Freiherr von Broich (Division von Broich) near Bizerte; the 21st Panzer Division, under Lt. Gen. Hans-Georg Hildebrandt; the 334th Infantry Division; and the 5th Fallschirmjäger Regiment. The Italian XXX Corps would comprise the 1st Superga Division, the 47th Grenadier Regiment, and the 50th Special Brigade to the south. Eventually Rommel’s Panzer-Armee Afrika would join von Arnim with the intent to move westward as a combined force to push the Allies back into Algeria and, perhaps, Morocco. For this operation the Axis would have to have control of the mountain passes in the Eastern and Western Dorsal Mountains of central Tunisia.

On January 30, 1943, a battle group of the German 21st Panzer Division and the Italian 50th Special Brigade, the latter with Semovente assault guns, attacked a French regiment in the Faïd Pass in the Eastern Dorsal near Sidi Bou Zid on the Sfax-Sbeitla road and defeated them there. An American counterattack with limited infantry and armor forces from Sbeitla failed to recapture the Faïd Pass and other neighboring ones, now defended by German 88mm antitank (AT) guns. Also, Fredendall’s II Corps’ advance during the last week of January on the Maknassy road junction via Sened—more than 30 miles to the southeast with his Combat Command C of Maj. Gen. Orlando Ward’s 1st Armored Division—had to be recalled and redirected to Sidi Bou Zid instead, just to the southwest of the Faïd Pass, as a crisis was unfolding to the north.

The loss of the Faïd Pass and failed counterattacks there from January 31 to February 1 would set the stage for further German offensive movements. On February 14 columns from both the 21st and 10th Panzer Divisions, under von Arnim, with more than 200 tanks combined broke through a thin American armor defensive line at Sidi Bou Zid from two different directions. The 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions made contact with one another to the west of Sidi Bou Zid at nightfall on February 14 to consolidate their gains. A failed American armored and mechanized infantry counterattack the next day led to the capture of approximately 1,500 GIs. More than 150 American tanks, half-tracks, artillery pieces, and trucks were left on the Sidi Bou Zid battlefields. The U.S. 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command A (CCA) had been crushed.

The Tunisian battlefield, mid-February 1943. After the Allies failed to win the race to Tunis in late November and December 1942, General Eisenhower called a halt to offensive operations and consolidated his forces while awaiting better weather. The British 1st Army was deployed in northern Tunisia with both armored and infantry divisions. In central and southern Tunisia, the French 19th Corps, under General Louis-Marie Koeltz, was positioned to the south of the British and to the north of the U.S. II Corps, under Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall. The American II Corps comprised the 1st Armored Division, with its dispersed armored combat commands, and the 1st Infantry Division, which, likewise, had its 16th, 18th, and 26th Regiments scattered along a 200-mile front from north to south. Elements of the U.S. 34th Infantry Division were also assigned to the II Corps sector; however, their deployment was also scattered. The 5th Panzer Army, under Gen. Hans-Jürgen von Arnim, had its headquarters in Tunis; however, its infantry and armored divisions were situated along a defensive line running down the eastern side of the Eastern Dorsal Mountains from the Mediterranean coast in the north to the impassable Chott Djerid salt marshes to the south of El Guettar. Major elements of 5th Panzer Army’s two panzer divisions, the 10th and the 21st, would force through the Eastern Dorsal Mountains during the second and third weeks of February, thereby preempting a U.S. II Corps offensive, which theoretically could have split the Axis forces if it reached the sea at Sfax. In addition, von Arnim’s and Field Marshal Rommel’s separate armored offensives inflicted major defeats on the Americans at Sidi Bou Zid and at Kasserine on February 14–15 and February 20–22, respectively. Upon entering Tunisia, Rommel’s Panzer-Armee Afrika was situated in the south along the Mareth Line and was renamed the Italian 1st Army as major armored elements of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) were transferred to the German 5th Panzer Army in central Tunisia. The Italian 20th and 21st Corps, with some armor in the former, would remain in the south with elements of the DAK to combat Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s advancing 8th Army from the south.

On Kesselring’s direct order, von Arnim’s 21st Panzer Division continued 25 miles farther to the west, in the absence of another American counterattack, on February 16. Around Sbeitla were the remnants of the U.S. 1st Armored Division’s CCA and Col. Paul Robinett’s CCB. The Germans captured Sbeitla on February 17 after some lackluster fighting by the demoralized CCA, necessitating the withdrawal of CCB. The U.S. II Corps, after suffering extensive losses to the German armored thrust, had to establish a new defensive line through the Kasserine Pass, just to the southwest of Sbeitla, on the road toward Thala.

Enter Rommel! Since Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army had outrun its supplies and needed time to reassemble its lines of communication, so Rommel strengthened the Mareth Line in southern Tunisia with his infantry (now to become the Italian First Army under General Maresciallo Giovanni Messe) and utilized the mobile elements from his retreating German-Italian panzer army to seize Gafsa and Feriana on February 17, followed by the capture of the Allied airfield at Thelepte along with many aviation stores. Meanwhile, on February 17, von Arnim sent the 10th Panzer Division north toward the Fondouk and Pinchon Passes, while leaving the 21st Panzer Division at Sbeitla. On February 18–19, Kesselring approved of Rommel’s plan over von Arnim’s to now attach both the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions to Rommel in order to attack the U.S. II Corps defenses in the Kasserine Pass area on February 19. After getting through the Kasserine Pass through the Western Dorsal, Rommel could threaten Tebessa, the American supply base in Algeria on a road and railway network, and/or strike northwestward toward Thala and Le Kef, which would place him in the rear of the British First Army in northern Tunisia.

Rommel attacked the Kasserine Pass with his former Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) mechanized forces, while the 10th Panzer Division was still en route, during the early hours of February 20. The 21st Panzer Division attacked Sbiba directly due north of Sbeitla; however, this German force was repelled by Allied forces there. Initially opposing Rommel were only an American engineer regiment and a battalion of the U.S. 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. Other elements of the U.S. 39th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division also arrived. Anderson reinforced the road to Thala by ordering in contingents of the British 26th Armoured Brigade. Late in the afternoon elements of the 10th Panzer Division (without its Mk VI Tiger tank battalion) arrived, and along with Rommel’s German-Italian troops, they attacked to get through the Kasserine Pass with the intent of moving on either Thala to the northwest or Tebessa to the west. This German advance caused some Allied units to begin to retreat or become surrounded. Also, the armor of the British 26th Brigade, which had initially held off the German armor on the road to Thala, was finally overwhelmed with enemy reinforcements. Rommel’s Italian tanks were moving on the road toward Tebessa. Fredendall sent in Robinett’s CCB and other units of the 1st Infantry Division to block the further movement of Axis armor in light of the disintegration of Allied defensive positions.

Rommel consolidated his gains in the Kasserine Pass on February 21 as he vacillated in moving on Tebessa, Thala, or Le Kef (via Sbiba). As a result, he divided his battle groups along the three different road axes of advance, and each was to encounter increasing Allied strength. The Axis attempt to break into Thala was rebuffed by British armor; American artillery, including 105mm and 155mm howitzers of the 9th Infantry Division; and Allied fighter sorties, on the morning of February 22. American tank and artillery fire from Robinett’s CCB halted the Axis movement on Tebessa on February 21. The 21st Panzer Division’s movement along the road axis toward Sbiba was, likewise, stopped by British armor and American infantry defensive positions. By the afternoon of February 22, Rommel had realized that although his initial forays into the Kasserine Pass had been successful, a combination of stiffening Allied resistance along the axes of his advance, his waning fuel reserves, and the threat of Montgomery attacking the Mareth Line well to the southeast all necessitated him to issue a withdrawal order late on February 22 for all units. By the next day most of the German and Italian units had left Kasserine Pass.

After Sidi Bou Zid and Kasserine, Eisenhower altered his command structure by appointing the British general Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander the new leader of the 18th Army Group. For the final drive to capture Tunisia, Alexander would have twenty divisions in three main groups along a front of 140 miles. The formation of a Mediterranean Air Command under British air chief marshal Sir Arthur Tedder in late February would hopefully obviate some of the inadequacies of the Allied air presence up till then. It would comprise the 242nd Royal Air Force (RAF) Group, the XII Air Support Command, and the Tactical Bomber Force. Maj. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. was to take over the command of II Corps from Fredendall, with Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley as his deputy.

On February 26 von Arnim launched an offensive against the British in northern Tunisia to expand his perimeter of defense for Tunis. Von Arnim’s 5th Panzer Army would operate north of the area of Gabès, while Rommel would stand his forces facing southward toward Montgomery and his advancing British Eighth Army. On March 6 Rommel attacked Montgomery at Medenine; however, Eighth Army artillery and AT gunfire, along with RAF attacks on Axis columns, halted the German field marshal’s last Tunisian offensive.

In mid-March the Eighth Army prepared to assault the Mareth Line with several of its divisions. The Mareth Line consisted of a series of outdated blockhouses and entrenchments built by the French in the late 1930s to protect southern Tunisia from Mussolini’s Tripolitania outposts. It ran roughly from east to west halfway between Medenine to the south and Gabès to the north. The Mareth Line was to defend the plain between the Matmata Hills and the sea. To the west of the Matmata Hills were salt marshes and broken desert. Rommel harbored grave doubts about the suitability of the Mareth Line to stop Montgomery and left Africa permanently on March 9. After direct attacks on the enemy fortifications on March 20 failed, separate British operations at such locales as Wilder’s and the Tebaga Gap from March 23–26 successfully turned the Mareth positions from the flank and rear, respectively. This compelled the Axis, under General Messe, to begin its retreat on March 27, first to the north of Gabès at Wadi Akarit and then farther north to Enfidaville, less than 50 miles from Tunis.

Patton’s II Corps had three full infantry divisions, an armored division, and the 1st Ranger Battalion, plus engineers as well as field and coast artillery units, all totaling almost 90,000 men. In mid-March its first objective was Gafsa, directly due south of Kasserine, to draw enemy forces away from Montgomery in the south. The 1st Armored Division took Gafsa without a fight on March 17. Despite extremely muddy terrain, Sened, about 30 miles directly east of Gafsa, was captured with light opposition. The 1st Armored Division advanced an additional 20 miles to the northeast and took Maknassy uncontested. Finally, encountering stiff Axis resistance just to the east of Maknassy, the armored unit stopped its advance on March 22, just as a German counterstroke was to be unleashed on II Corps infantry at El Guettar, between Gafsa and Sened.

From March 21–24 the 1st Infantry Division repelled two major assaults by the 10th Panzer Division utilizing massed artillery, tank destroyers, mines, air sorties, and hand-to-hand combat. The American infantry suffered heavy casualties, but the Germans were compelled to withdraw. The Allied command had received their wish, namely, a diversion of Axis armor away from the Eighth Army in the south.

Following his victory at El Guettar, Patton unleashed a two-infantry-division (1st and 9th) attack to the sea between Gabès and Sfax, which would divide the Axis forces in two; however, the 9th Division, in its combat debut as a complete division, encountered stiff enemy resistance and incurred more than 1,600 casualties over nine days of combat. As little progress to the sea was made in late March and early April by II Corps, Eisenhower and Patton replaced Orlando Ward with Maj. Gen. Ernest Harmon to lead the 1st Armored Division on April 5. In any event, the Axis troops hastened in their northward retreat into the Tunis and Bizerte bridgeheads. II Corps divisions began shifting north to close in further on the two Tunisian ports.

On April 15 Bradley took command of II Corps as Patton returned to the rear echelon to plan the Sicily invasion. II Corps was to assist the British First Army in pushing back the enemy perimeter, and after the two enemy ports were isolated, Bradley was to capture Bizerte. Both the 9th Infantry Division along the coast and the 1st Infantry Division to its south had rough combat with the enemy in the hilly terrain, with daily success measured only in yards. On April 26 the 34th Infantry Division entered the II Corps thrust between the 1st and 9th Divisions. With objectives such as Hill 609 and Hill 523, the American infantry divisions continued to meet fanatical enemy resistance, with the 1st and 34th Divisions incurring more than 2,300 casualties in three days of nearly continuous combat. On April 30 II Corps began another general attack and overran Hills 609 and 523, with the Germans retreating into Mateur on the night of May 1. After two more days of tough combat, the 1st Armored Division drove the Germans out of Mateur. Bradley and his troops were only 20 miles from Bizerte.

The American attack on Bizerte with Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy’s 9th Infantry Division and Harmon’s 1st Armored Division commenced on May 6. On the next day, after some heavy street fighting in Bizerte to root out snipers with infantrymen and M3 Lee medium tanks, the retreating enemy fled through the city. Concurrent with this the British First Army’s V Corps drive on Tunis began on May 3, after linking up with Eighth Army. Alexander shifted Montgomery’s 7th Armored Division, the 4th Indian Division, and the 201st Guards Brigade from the Eighth Army to the First Army for this final assault on the Axis redoubt. Montgomery’s remaining troops would participate only in local operations so as to conserve manpower for the upcoming Sicily invasion. Tunis fell on May 7. The Axis units encountered in and around Bizerte and Tunis were in a state of complete disarray, with wholesale surrender commonplace. Eventually 275,000 Axis prisoners surrendered with the capture of Bizerte and Tunis. With the advent of the second week of May, the hard-fought, six-month-long Tunisian campaign was over, with the formal Axis surrender on May 13, 1943.

Operation Chariot – The Plan I

Late 1941 and early 1942 saw Britain’s darkest hours, pushed back in the Western Desert and with its eastern empire crumbling to Japanese aggression, the country stood alone with only the Atlantic convoys keeping the country afloat. These convoys were threatened by one of Germany’s greatest weapons, the Tirpitz, a battleship that far outclassed anything in the British armoury. The sheer size of the ship limited it to only a few ports where it could be repaired if it were to be damaged, a dry dock of immense proportions would be required, the only one that could be accessed from its main hunting ground, the Atlantic Ocean, was at Saint Nazaire, in western France. Originally constructed for the ocean liner ‘Normandie’, the dry dock was itself an impressive structure and an impossible target to destroy from the air. A force would have to be landed and destroy it with explosives, this was the task handed to the chief of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten.

A force of Commandos was to be taken six miles up the Loire estuary to Saint Nazaire aboard an antiquated destroyer packed with explosives and modified to resemble a German destroyer. The vessel would ‘bluff’ its way past the many German defensive positions using captured recognition codes, the destroyer would then ram the dry dock gates, set a fuse and disembark the Commandos who would set about various sabotage tasks. This force was to be escorted by eighteen small motor launches, who would then embark the Commandos and withdraw. It was an impossible task, perhaps the only chance of success was the Germans would never imagine the British to carry out such an audacious raid.

The Plan

As they sailed steadily towards the open sea the force changed formation into Cruising Order No. 1, which was their simulation of an anti-submarine sweep. On Atherstone’s signal, the longitudinal columns to port and starboard of the destroyers opened out from the rear until they were disposed in the form of a broad, open arrowhead, four cables behind the tip of which steamed Atherstone. In the open spaces to the rear of each ‘wing’ steamed Campbeltown, still with the MTB in tow, and Tynedale.

Remembering that fine first day, Newman, who with his staff was being made very comfortable on board the Atherstone, writes that ‘the thrill of the voyage was upon me – the study of the navigational course with the Navy – the continuous lookout for enemy aircraft – the preparation of one’s own personal kit to land in – and the deciphering and reading of W/T messages from the Commander-in-Chief made night fall on us in no time.’

Across in Campbeltown, Copland and the eighty-odd men of his Group Three parties were being made just as welcome by the truncated crew of the old destroyer. ‘There was little to do’ he remembers; ‘all our preparations had been made on PJC and it only remained to arrange our tours of duty for AA Defence, rehearse “Action Stations” and wait. Troops and sailors were very quickly “buddies”, and as no khaki was allowed to be seen on deck the limited number who were allowed up . . . appeared in motley naval garb, anything from oilskins to duffle coats, not forgetting Lieutenant Burtinshaw who discovered one of Beattie’s old naval caps and wore it during the whole voyage. During this first day too, we allocated all our landing ladders and ropes in places on deck where we thought they would be most wanted. Gough [Lieutenant Gough, RN, Beattie’s No. 1] was to be in charge of all tying-up and ladder control and his help in the allocation was invaluable.’

In the MLs also the pattern of ready camaraderie between ‘pongos’ and ‘matelots’ was quickly established, the representatives of the two services managing to live cheek-by-jowl in the crowded living spaces without dispute. Feeding more than twice the normal complement of men from the limited resources of the tiny midships galley was something of a problem for the designated cook, although in the early stages of the voyage seasickness, or the fear of it, robbed more than a few Commandos of their appetites. Tough as they might have been on dry land, some Commandos had nonetheless blanched at the mere thought of doing battle with the fearsome Bay of Biscay; typical of these was Bombardier ‘Jumbo’ Reeves, of Brett’s demolition party for the inner dry-dock caisson. A member of 12 Commando who had volunteered from the Royal Artillery, Jumbo was a qualified pilot whose aerial ambitions had been dashed as the result of an extreme susceptibility to airsickness. As one of those unfortunates whose stomach tended to come up with the anchor cable, he had had pronounced misgivings about setting off from Falmouth. For Jumbo, as for many others, the unexpected quiescence of the sea came, therefore, as a gift from God.

In the crowded messdecks as the sailors came and went with the changing of the watches, the Commandos talked and smoked, dozed on the matelots’ bunks, played cards and checked and re-checked their equipment. Proud of their hard-won skills, they were happy to demonstrate their prowess to their hosts, such as the nineteen-year-old Ordinary Seaman Sam Hinks, the forward Oerlikon gunner on ML 443, who had gone so far as to change his name so that his parents couldn’t stop him from joining up. As with so many of the other young sailors, who, unlike their thoroughly briefed Commando brothers, were only now being made aware of their target’s identity, Sam was still coming to terms with the fact that they were really on their way to attack a distant foreign port. In keeping with the times when foreign travel was still the exclusive preserve of the monied classes, Sam knew little of France and nothing at all of this place called St Nazaire: in fact, when first hearing the name during a conversation with a Commando by the forward gun, he recalls that, ‘St Nazaire meant as much to me as if you were going to Timbuktu!’

Having opened their sealed orders once clear of land, the reaction of the officers to the revelation of their target’s identity had generally been that this was a port into which no one with any common sense would wish to sail without benefit of armour plate and heavy guns.

Across on the starboard wing of the formation, ‘Temporary Acting’ Sub-Lieutenant Frank Arkle, the twenty-year-old First Officer of ML 177, who before the war had been a clerk in the offices of W.D. and H.O. Wills, greeted the news with ‘some uncertainty and a sort of cold resignation’. Behind him in England were his family, his friends, and his childhood sweetheart, Meg; ahead lay a task of prodigious difficulty from which none could confidently expect to return. It was a prospect about which he and many others found it was best not to think too deeply. Better by far to focus on not letting the side down and leave all the rest to fate.

On board the gunboat, which was swinging like a pendulum at the end of Atherstone’s tow, Curtis had briefed his crew shortly after the force adopted its cruising formation, prompting Chris Worsley to conclude that they were all embarked upon a very ambitious and dangerous enterprise. Strangely, though, considering all the circumstances, he neither thought of, nor worried about, survival, as it simply never struck him that he might be killed.

Closer to the centre point of the formation, Lieutenant Tom Boyd, RNVR, the skipper of the torpedo-armed ML 160, was concerned about how well the force would perform in action, bearing in mind its poor overall standard of training. There simply hadn’t been time to school the crews properly in working as a cohesive unit; as evidence of their lack of preparedness he could cite the same poor standards of station-keeping that were worring Ryder himself. Indeed, during the course of this first day Ryder would make no less than fifty signals to boats, instructing them to close up.

Standing on the bridge of Billie Stephens’ ML 192 Leading Telegraphist Jim Laurie, from Coldstream in Scotland, learned of his fate from the skipper himself. A regular, who had joined the Navy in 1936 at the age of only sixteen, Jim had led something of a charmed life, having survived the sinking of the destroyer Delight, as well as the loss to a mine of ML 144, while he was fortunate enough to be on leave. Looking back at the fast-disappearing coastline, Stephens said to him, ‘Do you think if you jumped overboard you could swim back to Falmouth?’ Replying in the negative, Jim was then told, ‘Right. You can go in the wheelhouse and study the maps and you’ll see just where we’re going.’ For Jim, as for all the sailors, there was never a question of choice. The highly trained Commandos had been offered a get out, while the much less experienced sailors had not; yet, once they were under the German guns, the risk for all would be the same.

Standing as an example of so many of the sailors, who, on hearing for the first time what was expected of them, rapidly concluded that someone, somewhere must have a screw loose, was Stoker Len Ball of Ted Burt’s ML 262. A twenty-five-year-old process chemical worker from Barking in Essex, Len could not believe that they really intended to sail right through the front door of such a heavily defended base in boats that were little better than tinder boxes. After the briefing he returned to the engine room and thought about it all; the more he thought about it, the more impossible it seemed. He was no more privy than were his pals to all the details of the German guns that lay in wait to greet them, but he knew that, provided the Jerry gunners did their jobs right, there were more than enough of them to cause very substantial damage indeed.

Waiting for Len and the other ‘Charioteers’, along either bank of the estuary as well as in and around the port itself, were some seventy pieces of ordnance, varying in calibre from 20mm quick-firing cannon all the way up to the huge 240mm railway guns of Battery Batz, a little way west of La Baule.

Under the overall command of the See Kommandant Loire, Kapitän zur See Zuckschwerdt, who was headquartered in La Baule itself, these consisted of two main classes of weapon, each designed to fulfil a specific purpose. Emplaced so as to defend the approaches to the estuary were the heavy batteries of Korvettenkapitän Edo Dieckmann’s 280th Naval Artillery Battalion, with Dieckmann himself headquartered close by the gun battery and Naval Radar Station on Chémoulin Point. While for the dual-purpose defence of the port itself there were waiting the three battalions of the 22nd Naval Flak Brigade, commanded by Kapitän zur See Mecke, whose own headquarters were situated close to Dieckmann’s at St Marc.

Ranging in calibre through 75, 150, 170 and 240mm, Dieckmann’s coastal guns were arranged in battery positions, primarily along the northern shore of the estuary, close to which lay the deep-water channel which any ship of substance must use in order to reach the port. These fixed emplacements began at the estuary mouth, and ran eastwards as far as the Villès-Martin – Le Pointeau narrows, at which point the sea-space was reduced to a mere 2.25 sea miles, and beyond which lay the province of Mecke’s Flak Brigade.

Approaching the estuary mouth in their attack formation of two long parallel columns extending over almost 2, 000 metres of sea, with the gunboat in the van, and Campbeltown steaming between the leading troop-carrying MLs, the ‘Chariot’ force would find itself entering into a perfect trap from which it would be the very devil to escape. On their starboard beam and guarding the southern extremity of the estuary shore would be the 75mm guns of Battery St Gildas; while to port, and guarding the north, there would be railway guns just inland from the Pointe de Penchâteau. Fine on their starboard bow, as they approached across the shallows, would be the guns of Battery le Pointeau, backed by the 150cm searchlight ‘Yellow 3’; fine to port would be the cluster of batteries comprising the 150mm guns of Battery Chémoulin and the 75mm and 170mm cannon of the cliff-top position close by the Pointe de l’Eve. Backing the cliff-top emplacements was the 150cm searchlight ‘Blue 2’.

It was to divert the attention of these defences that the diversionary air raid had been proposed, for without it the ‘Charioteers’ would be forced to rely on luck, their low silhouettes, their unexpected line of approach and such devices as Ryder believed might confuse the enemy into mistaking them for a friendly force. Either way, with or without the bombers, this passage of the outer portion of the estuary would be fraught with danger, including that from mines, patrol vessels and possibly even Schmidt’s destroyers; every sea-mile gained towards the target without the alarm being raised would be a triumph.

Assuming they made it to the narrows, they would then be passing into the restricted throat of the estuary, less than two sea-miles from their target, but with the full weight of Mecke’s three flak battalions ranged close by them on either hand. These lighter, dual-purpose weapons of the 703rd, 705th and 809th Battalions, primarily 20 and 40mm, but with a sprinkling of 37s, would be able to switch quickly from air to surface targets, and COHQ’s original concept of an approach by stealth had been constructed around the premise that their crews must be far too busy firing skywards to worry about the seaward approaches to the town.

Running past Korvettenkapitän Thiessen’s 703rd Battalion, backed by the large searchlight ‘Blue 1’, they would come within easy range of the defences both of the outer harbour and of the Pointe de Mindin on their starboard beam, where were mounted the searchlights and 20mm cannon of Korvettenkapitän Burhenne’s 809th Battalion. At this point, with the range so short, the ‘Charioteers’ would at least be able to reply in kind; however, they would also be at their most vulnerable, which is why the air plan had been designed to reach its crescendo during this period. Should the diversion succeed, then the force just might reach the dockyard intact, at which point, while Campbeltown raced for her caisson, the columns of MLs would break to port and make for their own two landing points.

As leader of the formation, the gunboat, carrying Ryder, Newman, Day, Terry, Holman and a handful of the HQ party, would circle to starboard and support Campbeltown as she made her final dash. Only after she was in place would Curtis put Newman’s party ashore in the Old Entrance. To observe and record the gunboat’s subsequent peregrinations, Holman would remain on board with Ryder.

In company with Curtis, and positioned at the head of either column, the non-troop-carrying torpedo MLs, 160 and 270, were to make up a small forward striking force on the way in, should enemy patrol craft be encountered. While the landings were taking place, their job would also be to draw fire and protect their fellow ‘B’s from interference.

Following ML 270 would be the troop-carrying MLs of the port column, scheduled to land against the slipway on the northern face of the Old Mole. Drawn from Wood’s 28th Flotilla, these were now under the direct command of Platt in ML 447. As for the starboard column, sailing in behind ML 160, Stephens’ ML 192 and the remaining three troop-carriers of his own 20th Flotilla would lead the second pair of 7th Flotilla boats. Being torpedo-armed, the latter two would have the secondary role of protecting the force from rearward attack. All six boats in this column were to pass under Campbeltown’s stern and put their men ashore in the Old Entrance.

Destined to play a crucial role in the coming action, both as a primary landing point and as the position from which all retiring soldiers were to attempt to withdraw, the Old Mole jutted some 130 metres into the waters of the Loire. Standing twenty feet above the decks of the MLs, even at the full height of the tide, it represented an obstacle which was almost medieval in character – a fortress wall rising sheer from the water, which must somehow be scaled, but from the top of which its defenders would prove almost impossible to dislodge.

Strongly fortified by the Germans, its upper surface was crowned by two substantial concrete emplacements, each more than a match for the puny shells with which the ‘Chariot’ force would be obliged to attack them. At its seaward end, a little to the rear of the lighthouse which marked its furthest extension, was searchlight emplacement LS 21; about one third of the way along was the 20mm gun position number 63, firing through embrasures and all but impervious to attack. Not on the Mole itself, but situated close by its landward end, and positioned so as to control the approaches to its northern face, was the 40mm gun position number 62.

Protected by shallow water where it joined the quayside, the Mole could be effectively attacked only by means of the long slipway running up its northern face. At its tip, and giving access to the lighthouse, were tight, narrow steps up which men might possibly scramble; however, they would then be faced with a frontal attack on position 63. Placing scaling ladders against its sheer stone face at some other point was always a possibility, but, with the defenders able to direct fire downwards on to the decks of the boats, this would surely be a tactic of last resort.

Always assuming they survived for long enough to reach the Mole, a total of six MLs were briefed to put their Commando parties ashore at the slipway, following each other in quick succession and then hauling off to act in accordance with the orders of the Naval Piermaster, Lieutenant Verity, RNVR. Designated Group One, and under the overall command of Captain Bertie Hodgson, these parties, numbering a mere eighty-nine men, had the job of overwhelming all the German defences in and around the Old Town and sealing the area off by blowing up those bridges and lock-gates across the New Entrance by means of which the Germans would surely seek to mount a counter-attack. Should the Commandos succeed in this, then the Old Town area would be protected by water on three sides, and by the Commandos of neighbouring groups on the fourth, making it a secure base from which a successful withdrawal might later be made.

Landing from Platt’s ML 447, the first party ashore was to be Captain David Birney’s Assault Group ‘1F’, a heavily-armed fourteen-man squad whose primary task was to capture and clear the Mole and establish a bridgehead at its landward end. From this commanding position they could then protect the remaining five MLs, initially as they came in to effect their landings, and later as they sought to re-embark troops and return with them to England. A small but important subsidiary task would involve clearing the building containing gun position 62, so that it could be used as an RAP by the two Commando doctors scheduled to land a short time later.

Following close upon the heels of Platt should be the ML of Lieutenant Douglas Briault, carrying Assault Party ‘1E’, a second fourteen-man unit, this time under the command of Bertie Hodgson himself. Also landing would be Captain Mike Barling, the first of the Commando doctors, and two Medical Orderlies, whose job it was to prepare to receive and treat the wounded. Hodgson was to pass through Birney’s bridgehead and move south to capture and secure the long East Jetty of the Avant Port, whose two gun positions, M60 and M61, were able to fire into the flanks of any vessels approaching or leaving the Mole. With the Avant Port secured, his party was then to picket and patrol the built-up area of the Old Town itself.

The way having hopefully been cleared by the assault parties, it would then be the turn of the demolition teams to land. First to come ashore would be Group ‘1C’, landing from Collier’s ML 457 and consisting of Lieutenant Philip Walton’s demolition team and their five-man protection squad under Tiger Watson. Their job was to move quickly west towards target group ‘D’ at the northern end of the New Entrance, where Walton and his party of four would prepare the lifting bridge and lock-gate for demolition, while Watson and his men watched over them like mother hens. In this exposed position the men would be open to attack from several different quarters, despite which demolition could not take place until all the other crossings had been similarly prepared, as all the explosives were to be interconnected and fired simultaneously. In overall charge of the demolitions within this sector was Captain Bill Pritchard who, along with his small Control Party, would land with Walton and Watson.

Next in line, and briefed to demolish the central lock-gate, designated target ‘C’, would be the seven-man team of Captain Bradley, landing from Wallis’s ML 307. This team would operate without a protection squad and was to withdraw to the Mole immediately its work was done. Landing with them would be Captain David Paton, the second of the Commando doctors staffing the RAP; recording every detail for the Exchange Telegraph would be Edward Gilling.

Fifth to land, and carried on board ML 443, should be a cluster of demolition parties charged with destroying the group of buildings comprising target group ‘Z’. Consisting of three small teams under Lieutenants Wilson and Bonvin, and Second-Lieutenant Paul Basset-Wilson, they would blow the Boilerhouse, Impounding Station and Hydraulic Power Station. Landing with them would be their protection party under Lieutenant Joe Houghton. Upon completion of the work all three demolition parties were to withdraw to the protection of Birney’s bridgehead.

Operation Chariot – The Plan II

Last of the troop-carrying boats of the port column, Lieutenant Ian Henderson’s ML 306 would put ashore the third of the demolition teams targeting the New Entrance crossings. Consisting of eight other ranks commanded by Lieutenant Ronnie Swayne, and protected by Lieutenant Vanderwerve’s small squad, this team would aim to destroy the lock-gates and swing-bridge comprising target group ‘B’, and thus complete the isolation of the Old Town area. Generally speaking, all demolition parties were supposed to withdraw in the company of their protection squads; however, in the case of the New Entrance targets, in recognition of the fact that their very substantial construction might prevent their total destruction, it was decided that the protection squads of Watson and Vanderwerve should remain in place until the final stages of the withdrawal, to prevent German infiltration across what might be left of the structures.

As a final precaution, and irrespective of any other tasks they might have, all parties were warned of the absolute necessity of capturing and clearing the Mole. Should Birney fail for any reason to land, the first responsibility of any and all parties following behind was therefore to complete this one essential task.

As with so much of the overall plan, the assault on this all-important structure was a complex pattern of interdependencies, likely to succeed only if the majority of the parties actually landed, and in the order specified. Should this not be the case, then the chances of capturing the position were effectively almost nil. As the final assembly point for all retiring parties, its subjugation was critical to a successful withdrawal. And yet the most powerful weapons at hand to secure its defeat were the dash and élan of the men sent against it, allied to more good luck than any such lightly armed force had a right to expect.

While the boats of the port column were thus occupied, those of Billie Stephens’ column were to make straight for the Old Entrance and put the Group 2 Commandos ashore. There was a slight possibility that their forward progress might at this point be impeded by a boom. However, if it was not, then they would be free to select their own landing points, based on the degree to which enemy vessels already moored within the narrow cleft of water obstructed their access to the quaysides.

On landing, the Group Two parties were briefed to operate both north and south of the Old Entrance, combining with Campbeltown’s parties to dominate the vital triangle of land between the dry dock and the Bassin de St Nazaire, and working their way southwards through the warehouse area towards Bertie Hodgson’s domain. They would, with luck, complete the isolation of the whole zone within which the night’s demolitions were to be carried out and thus provide a secure haven through which a phased and orderly withdrawal of the northern parties might later take place.

First to storm ashore from Stephens’ own ML 192 was to be assault party ‘2D’, headed by the Group Two commander, Captain Micky Burn. Ultimately aiming to operate against targets on the neck of land which separated the Bassin de St Nazaire from the Bassin de Penhoët, Micky was first charged with ensuring that Campbeltown’s landings were not being impeded by the guns atop the pump-house. If these positions, numbers 64 and 65, were in the process of being dealt with by the Group Three parties, all well and good. If not, then Micky was required to subdue them before moving on. Within their own target area, his men were to knock out two wooden flak towers, as well as a possible gun position close by the Pont de la Douane. They would also be required to establish a blocking position at the eastern end of the inner caisson, to protect against attacks mounted from the area north of the oil-storage tanks.

Next in line should be Lieutenant Ted Burt’s ML 262, carrying the nine-man demolition party of Lieutenant Mark Woodcock, and the five-man protection squad of Lieutenant Dick Morgan. Woodcock’s job, in an area likely to come under fire from vessels in the Bassin, was to wire up the Old Entrance lock-gates and swing-bridge ready for demolition. Should the bridge be in place and crossable, then the lock-gates could be blown first, followed later by the bridge, once all the parties to the north had withdrawn across it. Should the bridge be swung back, however, then it was Woodcock’s job to open it to traffic. In the event that the bridge could not be moved, then it was to be demolished in place and the lock-gates retained intact until such time as all the Commandos heading for re-embarkation at the Mole had safely withdrawn across them.

Following close behind ML 262, Lieutenant Eric Beart’s ML 267 was scheduled to put ashore RSM Alan Moss and the remaining members of Newman’s small though invaluable reserve. While remaining at their Colonel’s immediate disposal, they were to engage enemy vessels in the nearby Bassin, as well as such U-boats as were not fully protected by their shelters’ massive concrete walls.

Fourth in line was to be Lieutenant Bill Tillie’s ML 268, carrying the five-man demolition team of Lieutenant Harry Pennington, their similarly sized protection squad under the command of Lieutenant Morgan Jenkins and a small addition to Newman’s reserve. With the party designation ‘2C’, Pennington’s and Jenkins’ Commandos were to move swiftly to Micky Burn’s position, destroy the Pont de la Douane and thus prevent the Germans from counter-attacking across it. Dominating the bridge and inner caisson area would be the cluster of guns atop the old Douaniers’ building. Should these be in action, then Pennington had the additional task of setting fire to the structure with incendiaries. Upon completion of all his tasks, he was then to withdraw, leaving Jenkins’ team to thwart any German moves to cross from the west bank.

Bringing up the tail of the column, the remaining torpedo MLs, Fenton’s 156 and Rodier’s 177, were to carry between them the twenty-eight men of Captain Hooper’s special assault party ‘2E’. Briefed to operate both north and south of the Old Entrance, they were to silence two gun positions right on the foreshore, which might or might not be in use on the night, and deal with any enemy vessels unfortunate enough to be trapped within the dry dock. Upon completion of these tasks, Hooper was to place his team at Newman’s disposal at the earliest possible moment.

As all three landings were designed to take place within the same slim envelope of time, the activities of Micky Burn’s group should neatly dovetail with those of Major Copland’s parties, landing from the Campbeltown on to the caisson itself. Of course this assumed that the old destroyer would make it as far as the dockyard, something no one dared predict with certainty, first because she would attract the fullest weight of fire from the German defences, and second because she might well run aground, especially with the operation having been initiated some days before the fullest height of the tides. Should she be damaged or become stuck, MLs 160, 270, 298 and 446 had been detailed to carry off her personnel and take her troops ashore. In this worst-case scenario, her charges were to be set to blow up some time after the last of the small boats had withdrawn. In her absence the attack on the caisson itself would be carried out with MTB 74’s special torpedoes.

Supposing Campbeltown did make it through, however, there would then be the problem of the caisson itself, which might or might not be closed on the night. If closed, it was to be rammed at speed so that the destroyer’s bows might ride over the top and provide a platform from which her troops could rapidly disembark. If open, then Beattie was to lay his ship alongside the dry-dock wall, port-side to, and scuttle her abreast the caisson sill, so as to gain the maximum effect from her eventual explosion. Should the dock be clear and the inner caisson closed, then Wynn was to pass by the destroyer and lay his special torpedoes against it.

In the event that the gods were riding with Campbeltown and that Beattie was able to ram the caisson as planned, then the disembarkation of her Group Three Commandos must be carried out in a blur of activity, before the stunned defenders could effectively respond.

During the run-in most of her demolition parties would be tucked away below deck, while the remainder, along with the protection parties and Roderick’s and Roy’s assault troops, would be sheltering behind the screens abaft the superstructure. While it was the job of the demolition and protection parties to hold themselves in readiness for their attacks on shore, the assault parties were under orders to supplement the naval fire-plan by firing on German positions as they came in to ram. For this purpose a 3” mortar had been installed on either side of the deck just forward of the bridge, the fire from which tubes, when added to that of Oerlikon, Bren and Tommy gun, would hopefully allow the destroyer to lay down an effective counter-barrage.

On ramming, it was the assault troops who were to disembark first, with the object of overrunning the defences in the immediate area of the caisson. Quickly clambering over the starboard bow, the fourteen-man team of Lieutenant Johnny Roderick was tasked with knocking out a cluster of gun positions, numbers 66, M70, M10 and 67, the first of which was in a sandbagged emplacement close by. Having cleared these and secured the right flank of the attack, he was then to establish a block with the object of preventing a counter-attack across the caisson. Should there be the opportunity to do so without weakening the block, his men had been instructed to attack the oil-fuel stores with incendiaries.

While Roderick was thus occupied, his opposite number, Captain Donald Roy, would be landing with his own fourteen-man team from the destroyer’s port bow. Roy’s primary target was the pair of guns emplaced atop the pump-house. High above the quayside, these would have a clear and unobstructed view along the full length of Campbeltown’s deck. Roy had arranged to attack them with scaling ladders and grenades, and, during the detailed planning stages on board the PJC, had called for a volunteer to accompany him as he attempted to storm the roof, a potentially lethal enterprise for which Sergeant Don Randall had offered himself. Having overrun these positions, Roy was then to move on to bridge ‘G’ and there form a bridgehead through which the northern parties could later withdraw.

In the wake of the assault teams, it would then be the turn of the demolition parties to disembark. The first of these, party ‘3A’, had the task of destroying a cluster of targets in the immediate area of the ramming point. Should Campbeltown not be positioned so as to ensure destruction of the caisson, then the team of Lieutenant ‘Burlington Bertie’ Burtinshaw was to attack it with man-packed explosives. To make doubly sure of putting it out of action, Lieutenant Chris Smalley’s team were meanwhile briefed to destroy the nearby winding house. As the dock could not operate without the means of pumping in and extracting a huge volume of water, the pump-house was a target of critical importance, whose destruction was entrusted to the five-man team of Lieutenant Stuart Chant. Entering the structure which housed the facility’s great electric motors, Chant was to descend into the depths where, some forty feet below ground, he would destroy the pumps themselves. Of all the targets to be demolished on the night, these were perhaps the most important as they contained special castings which the Germans could not easily replace. Protecting these teams, Roy’s troops having by this time moved off to form their bridgehead at ‘G’, would be the five men of Lieutenant Hopwood’s party.

In conjunction with these teams, the men of party ‘3B’, protected by Lieutenant Denison’s small squad, were to destroy the inner caisson and winding house. Lieutenant Gerard Brett and his team of six were to lay charges both outside and inside the caisson, entering the hollow structure by means of manholes in its upper surface; while close by Lieutenant Corran Purdon’s team of five were to destroy the winding house. In overall control of the Group Three demolitions was Captain Bob Montgomery, his deputy, Lieutenant Bill Etches, having a special responsibility for these ‘3B’ targets. Last to leave the Campbeltown would be Copland himself, who, with his own small party, was to move swiftly via Newman’s HQ to the Old Mole where, in conjunction with the Naval Piermaster, he would organize the withdrawal. On completion of their tasks on board ship, the destroyer’s crew were to disembark on to the quayside and wait to be taken off by MLs operating in the vicinity of the Old Entrance. Should this option be denied them, they were to make their way to the Mole and be put on board the MLs there

‘Zero hour’, the time at which Campbeltown was due to strike the caisson, was set for 0130 hours on the morning of Saturday the 28th. The absolute maximum time-on-shore allowed for was a mere two hours, with the last ML due to be clear of the Mole and starting its long voyage home by 0330 hours. In the case of an uncompleted major demolition, this deadline might be exceeded; however, Newman had made sure everyone understood the very real correlation between early withdrawal and their chances of making it back alive.

For those who made it safely through the maelstrom, seconds indeed would be the currency of survival, for the initial advantage won by the shock of their assault would quickly erode as resistance stiffened and the German forces manoeuvred to hurl the tiny assault parties back into the sea.

Immediately available to oppose them, in addition to Zuckschwerdt’s own Naval troops, would be a motley collection of units cobbled together from guard companies and ships’ crews, as well as technicians and workers operating in their secondary role as infantry. These would be equipped to hold the line until such time as heavily armed Wehrmacht units could rush to the port and mount a formal assault on the tenuous Commando perimeter.

Because of the ongoing work on the submarine pens and port defences, a contingent of workers from the Todt Organization were in place, who would fight if required. The Naval technicians of Nos. 2 and 4 Works Companies also had an infantry role and would be committed early on to help stem the tide of the Commando advance. The crews of the many ships in harbour would supplement the defence both by manning their vessels’ weapons and by contributing parties to help with counter-attacks on shore. For safety’s sake the highly prized U-boat crews were billeted out of harm’s way in La Baule; however, the support staff of the 6th and 7th U-Flotillas would defend their boats against attack, even to the point of destroying them should it prove necessary. Also under Zuckschwerdt’s control, as the officer commanding all the defences of both port and estuary, were the guard companies and harbour-defence vessels of the Harbour Commander. And lastly, anchored right in the fairway east of the Avant Port, was the stoutly built and well-armed Sperrbrecher 137, a ship of similar tonnage to Campbeltown herself, which the ‘Chariot’ force would have to pass en route to the landing places.

Packing a more professional punch were the soldiers of the 333rd Infantry Division, a brigade of whom were stationed just inland of the port. Much more heavily armed than the Commandos, this unit was capable of mounting and sustaining an attack which it must eventually win, unless the Commandos acted with such speed and resolve that their withdrawal could begin before the German unit was in position.

Regarding the withdrawal itself, this was planned to take place in four stages, the first pulling back all the demolition parties, except Woodcock’s by bridge ‘G’, and subsequent stages gradually shrinking the defended perimeter back to Birney’s bridgehead. Lieutenant Verity was to be in charge of filling the MLs with up to forty men each and sending them on their way, independently and at maximum speed, towards the point at which they might expect to rendezvous with Atherstone and Tynedale. After initial treatment at the RAP, wounded were to be transferred to the two MLs which had embarked the doctors at Falmouth. These, when full, would follow the rest. MLs too damaged to complete the return trip were to be scuttled at sea and those which survived the coastal guns were to form themselves into the semblance of a fleet, returning to Britain by the reverse of their outward route.

In the case of an emergency requiring the immediate evacuation of the force, the men would be recalled visually by the firing together of 35-star red and green rockets, and audibly, both by the sounding of the MLs’ klaxons and by the use of loud-hailers to pass on the code-word ‘Ramrod’. Any or all of these signals would prompt the immediate withdrawal of all ranks to the Mole, always assuming, of course, that someone had managed to take and hold it in the first place!

In essence this was the plan as it was to be carried out on the night, always providing that fate and the German defenders cooperated fully. It was a plan of rather alarming complexity which would certainly be judged audacious were it to succeed, and foolhardy were it to fail to achieve its targets. It pitted flimsy ships and tiny groups of men against the massed defences of one of the Reich’s most valued bases, whose five thousand-plus sailors and naval and army troops could be relied upon to mount a swift and punishing response. It depended to an inordinate degree on surprise and luck and was so susceptible to losses that the failure of even a handful of parties could seriously undermine the efforts and success of the whole. Apart from Moss’s tiny squad, there was no reserve to speak of, and therefore no means by which such failures could be made good.

Having grown from a clinical attack on the ‘Normandie’ dock to encompass a number of targets entirely unrelated to the threat posed by Tirpitz, the force contained rather more demolition troops than was perhaps wise, and rather fewer assault troops than it might reasonably expect to need. Indeed, the plan had evolved to become nothing less than a broad-spectrum raid, whose confused priorities had in the end prompted Newman to write to Haydon for clarification. Amidst the transparent enthusiasm of the underused Commandos to get to grips with the enemy at last, an objective assessment of the risks of such a complex distribution of parties seems to have occupied only second place. The plan in fact displayed a heady optimism more suited to a raid on a rival school than to a potentially lethal assault on such a gun-rich enemy stronghold.

Churchill’s Aegean 1943 Part I

On 3 October 1943, German forces landed at Kos. Three companies of II./Gren.Rgt.16 were delayed by stiff resistance at an ‘ammunition dump’, actually a logistics camp.

That the campaign in the Aegean was a defeat is obvious and, indeed, can hardly be denied. As the last stragglers made their slow way back to safety, Hitler was jubilantly conferring on Lieutenant General Müller the accolade “Conqueror of Leros” and giving his “abundant appreciation” of his success. It must be admitted that this praise had been earned. Edwin Packer, in his summary of the campaign, headed his conclusions “No reward for audacity,” and in applying this to the British, he is certainly correct. For the Germans, however, audacity had paid a handsome dividend.

Other historians, although not all, while admitting that the British suffered a grievous setback, have sought to lessen its significance by comparing the British and German losses on a balance sheet that sometimes comes out equal and other times shows a marked advantage to the British. Though all the facts will never be known precisely, it is worth examining a few of these statements in detail in order to get a better picture.

British casualties are well tabulated. The Royal Navy lost heavily in its final duel with the Stukas; indeed, the scale of loss is comparable to the disaster suffered off Crete three years earlier. The cruiser Carlisle was damaged beyond repair; six destroyers, two submarines, and ten lesser vessels were sunk. Three cruisers were heavily damaged, as well as four more destroyers. The Germans lost twelve small steamers and twenty minor warships, plus one destroyer wrecked and bombed.

The Royal Air Force lost 115 aircraft, with a further 20 damaged. Luftwaffe losses in the same period have not been assessed, but one British historian has stated that “the figures reported at the time, 135 destroyed and 126 damaged, are certainly an over-optimistic calculation.” With the example of many other such estimates before us, we can agree that this is probably true. Even now the enormous casualties claimed to have been inflicted on the Germans during the Battle of Britain are still believed by many, although the actual figures were much smaller and have been given in several excellent works. The same will surely be found to apply in the claims and counterclaims of the Aegean air fighting, and it seems doubtful that German aircraft loss exceeded 120 planes.

The army had a casualty list of about 4,800, the size of an extended infantry brigade, but many of these were taken prisoner. The list of officers killed during the fighting on Leros makes it clear, however, that the British suffered particularly heavily in this respect, because of the general bravery and self-sacrifice of these men.

The fighting on Leros was particularly bloody, and the Germans took casualties not far short of the British. In their official communications of the time, they claimed to have taken 200 officers and 3,000 British POWs plus 350 officers and 5,350 Italians. Sixteen antiaircraft guns and 120 cannons were also captured. Their own casualties were appalling. The paratroops in particular were cut to ribbons. As was revealed under a “TOP SECRET” heading in the OKW Diary, the Germans suffered 1,109 casualties in taking Leros, 41 percent of the invading force. These were not all killed, but included the wounded. Some claims by British historians about the casualty ratio are rather misleading. It is on record that the graves on Leros were found to contain 1,000 Germans and 400 British, which conveys, even if unintentionally, the impression that this was the ratio of losses in the battle. If this were so, then it would seem that only 109 of the German casualties were wounded as opposed to killed, which is indeed an impressive figure. Lieutenant General Müller gave his losses for the invasions of Cos and Leros, as 260 dead, 746 wounded, and 162 missing. The British evacuated only 177 captured Germans from Leros before it fell. However historians sympathetic to the British cause add it up, the German number killed is less than a third of the figure claimed at the time.

Why the great difference in calculating? Mainly because German casualties were not separated from Italian at the time, as Churchill adopted his usual “creative accounting.” The prime minister was well-known for such exaggeration. Among the many examples, he stated to the House that hundreds of German Stuka dive-bombers had been shot down during the battle of Britain, when the true figure was just fifty-four. Earlier, when at the Admiralty, he claimed that the Royal Navy had sunk fifty German submarines, a totally ridiculous overestimate, when the true, verifiable figure was actually fifteen, as proved by postwar studies; spitefully, Churchill even had the director of antisubmarine warfare, Capt. A. G. Talbot, who dared to tell the true figure, removed from his post.

Churchill’s figures on the Aegean casualties were never challenged. For example, Capt. S. W. Roskill in the official history, The War at Sea, also states in a footnote that when the Sinfra was sunk, nearly 2,000 German and Italian soldiers were lost, which is the exact figure Churchill bragged about to Foreign Minister Anthony Eden. Though this figure is true, a mere fraction of this total were on the opposing side. The Sinfra went down with the loss of about 40 German soldiers out of the 500 carried; there were also aboard some 2,000 Italians—loyal to the Badoglio government and the Allies—and 200 Greek partisans, all of whom were being shipped back as POWs. Of these, only about 539 Italians and 13 Greeks were saved. The prime minister’s assertion “we drowned 2,000 of them” sounds far more impressive than “we drowned 40 of them.” Again, more than 1,200 Italians in transit were lost aboard the Donizetti. Clearly the deaths of British allies should not be included in the list of German losses, and only a politician grasping at straws would attempt to do so.

The scale of air attacks mounted by the Luftwaffe to subdue the Leros garrison has frequently been quoted as being up to 600 missions a day. Yet the official publication The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, compiled by British experts after examination of German records, completely refutes this:

The major share of the German Air Force in the success of both operations [Cos and Leros] stands out beyond all doubt. Yet this success was achieved, not as has sometimes been suggested by the use of overwhelming air power, but by fully exploiting a favorable situation with a small force maintaining only a moderate scale of effort. Both at Cos and Leros Luftwaffe activity was slighter than had been expected. The total effort in the two days operations for the reduction of Cos amounted to under 300 sorties including 65–75 Me.109 sorties of a defensive character; the main weight of the attack on October 3rd and 4th was born by Ju 87s which flew 140–150 sorties.

Of Leros, it states that operations, although very effective, were only moderate in scale: “during the five days of attack only 676–700 offensive sorties were flown.” The Luftwaffe had, however, conducted a softening-up campaign during the previous two months. Compare this with the Allied effort: From October 1 to 7, the U.S. Army Air Force made a total of 425 daylight sorties against airfields, landing grounds, ports, and bases, and the British made 63 night sorties by heavy bombers alone. From mid-October to mid-November, when the island fell, the U.S. made 317 sorties in seven days and the British 278 sorties on twenty-eight nights by heavy bombers. In daylight attacks against German shipping, American Mitchells made 86 sorties and Wellingtons and Beaufighters 11.

In addition, offensive sweeps were carried out almost daily during the actual period of fighting on Leros. Between November 12 and 17, Beaufighters and Mitchells made 79 sorties. Heavy bombers—American Liberators and Mitchells and British Halifaxes and Liberators—made a total of 212 sorties against airfields in Greece and Rhodes. Wellingtons, Hudsons, and Baltimores made an additional 55 sorties. Spitfires with special long-range tanks and Hurricanes made repeated sweeps over Rhodes and Crete at this time.

Particularly impressive was the record of the faithful Dakotas of No. 216 Squadron, which had operated efficiently and constantly throughout the campaign despite the most difficult and hazardous conditions and some losses. From October 6 to November 19, they flew 87 sorties and dropped a total load of 378,650 pounds. They also flew in the 120 paratroops to Cos, and one of the most outstanding of their efforts was the dropping of 200 officers and men of the Greek Sacred Squadron on Samos on the night of October 31–November 1. None of these troops had ever jumped before, and very few had any experience in flying. Nevertheless, on a pitch-black night, the six Dakotas carried out their mission with complete success. Also, all of the dispatchers they carried were volunteer airmen and soldiers, and flying in slow transports over German airfields packed with high-performance fighters in a round-trip of many hours surely called for a high standard of heroism.

Much has been made of the claim that by this small effort in the Aegean a large concentration of vital forces was drawn into the area from more important zones. This is partially true, but not of quite the significance that many have attached to it. Certainly the small resources of the German maritime fleet in the Mediterranean were called on to the limit, their shortcomings being made up from captured Italian tonnage, and the losses in proportion to the total were large. Certainly, too, the Germans deployed aircraft from Russia and France, but here again only on a small scale, some 150 machines in all. The aircraft used were predominantly of obsolete types anyway, which would have had only a limited value in the main theaters.

For example, the main air weapon, the Ju 87 dive-bomber, although it had a brilliant war record, had been replaced by the Fw 190 fighter-bomber for ground support in the main theater of war, the Russian front, and was mainly used as a night intruder over Western Europe toward the end of the war. The Ju 52s, which gave such sterling service, and the Ar 196 float-plane were both low-performance aircraft and not greatly missed. The bomber groups were soon switched back to the main fronts on termination of the campaign, and their absence was not greatly noticed, even in Italy. Here the Germans were able to hold with ease the Allied ground thrusts; they even counterattacked with telling effect and managed to reinforce as well, despite the massive effort of the heavy and medium bomber forces deployed continually against their communications.

As for the troops employed, with the sole exception of the Parachute Battalion, which was flown in from central Italy via Athens, all were from regiments already in occupation of Greece and the Balkans. Not one soldier of the Wehrmacht was otherwise pulled back from Russia or Italy. Some time later, the islands of Cos, Leros, and Samos were handed over by Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm Müller to Assault Division Rhodes, which became the garrison force. Müller survived the war but was tried and sentenced to death by a Greek court for alleged war crimes during his tenure in command on Crete and was executed by them on May 20, 1947.

The Germans were jubilant as well as shocked at the simplicity of their victory. According to the January 1944 issue of Das Signal magazine:

The fighting showed especially, two facets: In the first place, England’s sea power, which is engaged throughout the world’s seas, was not able to successfully defend important bases in the Eastern Mediterranean from where it had planned to put increasing pressure militarily. In the second place, however, the quick surrender of many enemy island defenders was a surprise. Contrary to the German soldier who, where fate puts him, fights to the last bullet, the soldier of the Western Powers stops fighting the moment he recognizes there is no chance to win the fight.

Failure always brings recrimination, and this campaign was no exception. It is not the aim of this book to censure anyone, but to set out the facts and present the arguments on each side. At the risk of oversimplification, they can be summarized in sections. First is the issue of Churchill versus the Americans, which is intermixed with the arguments involving the Middle East Command and the British Chiefs of Staff. The basic reason for the failure of the campaign was decidedly the question of air power, which can conveniently be summarized as Tedder versus Douglas, while at the level of the actual fighting, it was the soldier and sailor against the “brass hats.”

Edwin Packer wrote, “The undoubted strategic advantages which possession of the Dodecanese gave—clearly recognized by Churchill and Hitler, though not by Marshall and Eisenhower—blinded the British into thinking that audacity would be rewarded on this occasion as it had many times before in the history of their country.” This is indisputably true; but it is equally true that the Americans, though incredibly blind to the glittering prospects offered, as it seems in retrospect, had a good case for withholding their approval.

Captain Roskill pointed out that “we should take account of the fact that every peripheral operation inevitably grows in size as it progresses, with ever-increasing demands on resources; and the dislike of the American Chiefs of Staff, and of General Eisenhower and his subordinate commanders, for such enterprises, what time the major campaign which they had on their hands still had to be decided, is readily understood.”

He added later a further point: “In any theatre of combined operations there is always one position, generally an island, which, because of its geographical position and because it possesses harbors and airfields, is the key to control over a wide area.” As everyone realized, this key was Rhodes, and when it was captured by the Germans it was the time for the Allies to abandon the Aegean operation completely or recapture Rhodes first. Neither course was adopted. The Middle East Command instead made the decision to hold the lesser islands, but at first with the knowledge that the Germans were preparing for the imminent occupation of Rhodes. This must be stressed. General Maitland Wilson can hardly be blamed for embarking on the occupation of the Dodecanese when he did, even though from the outset the odds were against him. When he made his decision to go in, even Eisenhower was still in favor of Accolade taking place. Following Churchill’s telegram to Eisenhower on September 25 and Eisenhower’s reply on the twenty-sixth, in which he agreed to spare the asked-for armored brigade and most of the shipping, the assault date was set for October 23 by the Middle East Command. Therefore, the islands would have had to hold out for only one month, and this at a time when the strength and reaction of the Germans were not certain.

Nor can Maitland Wilson be blamed for the loss of Rhodes, for he was given insufficient warning. Had he been given time to organize a demonstration in strength as soon as the Italian capitulation was announced, it is possible that the Germans, unaware of his true strength and expecting the British to have been forewarned—and therefore forearmed—could have been overawed. Certainly there would have been a better chance than that given by withholding this vital information from Wilson until too late. As it was, only the Germans, not the Italians or the British on the spot, were ready when the time came. All else followed.

It was not until the unexpected fall of Cos to the Germans that two points were made clear. First, Hitler had a deep interest in the Aegean, and the German forces there were very much aware of its importance. And second, this reverse had a profound effect on American thinking about the campaign, and they thereafter began to hedge. Eisenhower certainly received more than adequate discouragement from his superiors in Washington.

The new American viewpoint was not made clear until the Tunis Conference, and despite everything that Churchill could do to save the scheme, Accolade was finally abandoned. By this time, the British were fully committed in the islands, but they still could have cut their losses and pulled out without too much difficulty. The arguments that this would have been a difficult operation were later proved to be overly pessimistic; enough stores and troops were run in to more than justify an attempt to get the small garrison out at that time. But it was not so decided.

The outcome of the Tunis Conference and the subsequent decisions taken by the Middle East Command are vital as to why the campaign was pushed on to its ultimate conclusion. Prior to the conference, Portal had telegraphed Tedder on October 7 asking him to keep an open mind on the question of air support for Accolade. Maitland Wilson received a message from Churchill urging him to press strongly for further support for Accolade: “It is clear that the key to the strategic situation in the Mediterranean is expressed in the two words ‘Storm Rhodes.”

The Joint Planners in London were expressing different opinions, however. They felt that the Middle East Command was overestimating the strategic importance of Rhodes; its occupation would not in itself be adequate. They believed, as did the Americans, that further reinforcements would be required. They recommended instead that the islands the British did hold be evacuated.

Nevertheless, two of the principal delegates at the conference had received promptings to the contrary from London. These promptings, however, had little effect on the outcome, for on the evening of October 9, Eisenhower informed Churchill of the result. In this, the prize was agreed to be great, but those present felt that the situation that had just developed in Italy, added to the fall of Cos, did not permit the diversion of the forces promised earlier.

Part two of Eisenhower’s telegram is of particular interest: “Every conclusion submitted in our report to the CCS was agreed unanimously by all Commanders-in-Chief from both theaters. It is personally distressing to me to have to advise against a project in which you believe so earnestly but I feel I would not be performing my duty if I should recommend otherwise. All Commanders-in-Chief share this attitude.”

The situation in Italy at this time was that the Germans had shown unexpected resilience and were pouring in reinforcements at an enormous rate. Whereas in mid-September, thirteen Allied divisions faced eighteen German ones, by the end of October, there would be only eleven Allied against twenty-five German. There can be little doubt then that the decision reached was the correct one.

Tedder went even further, writing: “There was no doubt in the mind of anyone present at this meeting that ‘Accolade’ could not now be staged effectively. It was clear to me that the Middle East Commanders had no faith in the project and were relieved at the decision. It was not only a question of German reinforcements in Italy. The weather had changed decisively for the worse.”

He cabled Portal that the question of Accolade was considered on its merit and with great impartiality before repercussions on the Italian campaign were examined. Maitland Wilson admitted this in a telegram sent to Churchill. Rhodes could not be taken that year. Why then were the British garrisons in Leros not withdrawn forthwith? Edwin Packer surmised: “They knew the project was dear to the heart of the British Prime Minister. Would he have thought less highly of them if they had cancelled the operation remembering his criticism of Wavell in 1941? No one cared to put it to the test: a reputation for caution was not a characteristic Churchill admired. So the C-in-Cs in the Middle East decided to go on.”

Could that have been the reason? Maitland Wilson’s cable shows that other things were in their minds. As a substitute for Rhodes, why not Turkey? Again, there was a chance, as when Operation Accolade was still officially on, that if they stuck to Leros and Samos for a little longer, airfields would be made available in that country. Maitland Wilson clearly expressed this thinking: “This morning John Cunningham, Linnel and I reviewed the situation in the Aegean (Sholto Douglas was in London at this time) on the assumption that Rhodes would not take place till a later date. We came to the conclusion that the holding of Leros and Samos is not impossible, although their maintenance is going to be difficult, and will depend on continued Turkish co-operation [emphasis added]. I am going to talk to Eden about this when he arrives on Tuesday.”

Thus the straw to which they clung, in affirming that the wishes of the prime minister were to be followed as far as possible, was Turkey. There were also other considerations that influenced their decision to a greater degree than the fear of displeasing Churchill. The islands of Leros and Samos had not yet been attacked, and although the fall of Cos had shown that the Germans were determined, it was still not thought that a reinforced Leros could be assaulted successfully for some time. The illusion of “Fortress Leros” still had not been revealed and they felt that it was a bastion that, if garrisoned with good troops, could hold out against an attack. The amount of irritation that they could inflict on the scattered German garrisons on the island— and maintain until either Turkey came in or the long-deferred Accolade could be remounted in the spring—held out the promise of allowing them to hold down large German forces with a limited effort.

Churchill’s Aegean 1943 Part II

16 November 1943. Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller (left) with the surrendered Fortress commander Brigadier Robert Tilney (right).

The result is succinctly recorded in the official history: “The local commanders did not hesitate; the Chiefs of Staff supported them; and the Prime Minister agreed with both.”

Indeed he did. Maitland Wilson received by return an enthusiastic reply: “Cling on if you possibly can. It will be a splendid achievement. Talk it over with Eden and see what help you can get from the Turk. If after everything has been done you are forced to quit I will support you, but victory is the prize.”

He was as good as his word. In the event, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was not forthcoming. Turkey was more impressed by German victories than by British promises or Soviet threats. There would be no fighter cover from Turkey.

The vital factor of air cover—and the divergence of opinion that resulted between Tedder and Douglas—must be examined together with the rigid command structure, which, in Churchill’s words, “drew an imaginary line down the Mediterranean” and relieved General Eisenhower’s armies of all responsibility for the Dalmatian coast and the Balkans. “These are assigned to General Wilson, of the Middle East Command, but he does not possess the necessary forces. One command has the forces but not the responsibilities, the other the responsibilities but not the forces. This can hardly be considered an ideal arrangement.”

With this command structure, the allocation of air power was also involved. Whereas Wilson was an independent commander and responsible only to London, Douglas and his command in the Middle East were under the operational control of Tedder at Eisenhower’s headquarters. This soon led to difficulties. Douglas wrote:

From the outset I was far from happy about the view of our efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean taken by Eisenhower’s HQ. The answers they were giving to our signals to them could never be considered as properly thought out, and I could not understand Tedder’s position in all this. He had appeared to approve of our plans to start with, and it was not until some three weeks after we had stated our intentions, and we had actually put them into operation, that he lodged his disturbing complaint about not being consulted.

Tedder’s viewpoint was somewhat different:

So far as I was aware the participation of elements of the Mediterranean Air Command had never been properly considered. The fall of Cos only made such an assessment more urgent. I set out in detail for Eisenhower’s eye the ways in which a determined attack on Rhodes would diminish our air strength in the Italian campaign. In particular I anticipated a demand for long range fighters for the purpose of covering convoys and the assault on Rhodes itself.

Eisenhower’s response to Tedder’s warning was to send him a reply to the effect that no specific undertakings should be made for Accolade other than that of bombing German airfields in Greece, which they had both already agreed was desirable. Tedder sent a copy of this to Portal and added that he wholeheartedly endorsed it.

It must also be stressed that even when Accolade was still a possibility, Tedder, in common with the others, stressed that an essential part of the revised plan lay in the retention of Cos and Leros, which in his opinion was as necessary to the capture of Rhodes as its own capture was necessary to their preservation. Thus when Cos went so quickly, it was to be expected that he would then have grave reservations about the rest of the plan.

While Cos was being subjected to heavy air attacks, Douglas had made repeated pleas for the bombing of the Greek and Balkan airfields, but Tedder felt that the bombing of the German supply lines in Northern Italy was of greater importance. He did in fact signal Douglas before the island fell that he was very concerned about the way the Aegean operations were going. He added that commitments were involved that he had had no prior opportunity of assessing. Tedder felt that events were underlining something he had always thought—that from the air point of view, the Balkans were strategically one and the same as the rest of the Mediterranean. He promised that he would do his best to help, but he insisted that he must be kept informed of future plans.

It was at this time that Portal signaled Tedder that in his opinion, the Allies should fight the German Air Force wherever it went. He also thought the Allies could better afford a diversion into the Aegean than could the Germans and that damage inflicted on the Germans in the Aegean was just as desirable as damage inflicted in any other theater.

With Cos gone and Accolade abandoned, the question of extra air diversions became even more acute. Tedder felt that they were becoming more and more wasteful and dangerous; Douglas felt more and more that he was letting down the other two services. With Portal’s message recording his pleasure at the forward policy being adopted by Middle East Command in the Aegean and Tedder’s signal complaining that he had no prior opportunity of assessing the operations then in progress, Douglas was perplexed. “It struck me that in some curious way Tedder appeared to be the only one who was not fully acquainted with what was going on—even London knew and approved. It confirmed for me my opinion that the time was more than ripe for a fundamental change in the structure of the overall command of the air in the Mediterranean.”

From this statement, it can be seen that the two men, although at loggerheads over this particular issue, had both come to the same conclusion, as had Churchill: that the system of command in the Mediterranean at this time was unworkable, unwieldy, and far too inflexible. There can be no denying that in this and in so many similar operations, from the occupation of Norway through the fall of France and on to the desert campaigns, it was the Germans who made unexpected moves and took chances with new and surprising tactics. It has always been the delight of British and American observers and commentators to depict the Germans as dull, methodical plodders who could never adapt. But in fact, time and time again, it was the Allies with their rigid command structures who were caught off-guard by German initiative.

After Leros had suffered the same fate as Cos, both Tedder and Douglas were dispirited. Douglas wrote:

I prepared a paper in which I summarized all that had happened in the last days of the operation. I was in no mood to pull any punches and I started off with the blunt statement: “I am very dissatisfied with the assistance that I received during the Leros operation.” I pointed out that when the deterioration of the weather in Italy had bogged down the battle there—right at the period during which Leros was being attacked—“a wider view should have been taken of the dispositions of heavy and medium bombers and of long-range fighters.” I further pointed out that we had asked “not once but many times” for Liberators and Lightnings to be located in Cyrenaica, and that “all we got were a few B-25s at first with disgruntled and later with untrained pilots and armed with semi-experimental 75-mm guns.”

He continued much in the same vein; recording that between October 27 and November 14, no attack had been made by Allied heavy bombers from the central Mediterranean on the Greek airfields. On November 14, ninety-one B-25s with forty-nine Lightnings as escorts had bombed Sofia, an attack that, if it had been directed against the Greek airfields instead, might have tipped the scales. Douglas came to the conclusion, in this paper and later, that it was the disregard by the Americans in general, and the indifference of the Mediterranean Air Command in particular, that resulted in the Middle East Command’s difficult position during this operation. We can certainly agree with him on the first part of this conclusion. As for the second, Tedder’s feelings were also recorded much later, when the campaign was but a memory. They are nevertheless both sincere and, in the context of the U.S. Chiefs of Staffs’ attitude, pertinent.

Tedder claimed that he had never ignored the fate of Leros, but that even less could he detach himself from the fate of the Italian campaign. He thought that the whole operation was a gamble that had failed to pay off and added that the assumption that heavy bomber raids could knock out the Luftwaffe was quite unrealistic because of the effort they would have required and the weather conditions prevailing at the time. The success of such a scheme was continuity of attack, and this continuity could not have been sustained. He recorded: “One would have thought that some of the bitter lessons of Crete would have been sufficiently fresh in the mind to have prevented a repetition and yet in the sad story of Cos and Leros we had the familiar cries—and justifiable cries—for protection from enemy air attack, complaints of inadequate support from the Air, and heavy casualties in all three Services, because we were compelled once again to attempt the impossible.”

Here again we can sympathize with this opinion. One destroyer captain wrote, “We younger destroyer skippers, I think, blamed Churchill.” This opinion was strongly endorsed by the late Capt. Stephen Roskill, who asserted, “Most of the responsibility for this failure must surely rest with Churchill,” who, Roskill had an “addiction” to capturing islands (for example, his obsession with Pantellaria in 1940 and 1941 and the Azores in the same period) that would have proved difficult to supply. Roskill also stated that the hopes Churchill entertained about Turkey entering the war being the principal plank on which he rested his case “was an illusion.” Another study went even further, naming the campaign “Churchill’s Folly” and claiming that the full story had “never been told”—which, as War in the Aegean was first published in 1974, was patently not so. The author also called the campaign “The Last Great British Defeat of World War II,” a dubious statement, with Arnhem at least as a stronger contender.

But all this criticism of the prime minister, though undoubtedly merited, does not seem entirely fair. Despite Churchill’s propensity for wild schemes and harebrained interventions, such Operation Catherine, the fiasco of Norway, Operation Workshop, the insistence of the dispatch of Prince of Wales and Repulse to Singapore against the advice of the Admiralty, and so on, there can be no doubt that on this occasion, he really did read Stalin’s future intentions for the Balkans far better than the naive Roosevelt and, indeed, the Americans in general.

Certainly the bright vision was Churchill’s, and he was extremely reluctant to see it thrown away. “Leros is a bitter blow to me,” he told Eden in a telegram sent on November 21. He continued:

One may ask should such an operation ever have been undertaken without the assurance of air superiority? Have we not failed to learn the lessons of Crete, etc.? Have we not restored the Stukas to a fleeting moment of their old triumphs? The answer is that there is none of these arguments that was not foreseen before the occupation of these islands was attempted and if they were disregarded it was because other reasons and other hopes were held to predominate over them. If we are never going to proceed on anything but certainties we must certainly face the prospect of a prolonged war.

He also stated that this campaign “constituted, happily on a small scale, the most acute difference I ever had with Eisenhower.”

Yet he showed not the slightest hint of remorse for all the sacrifice made for naught, only a politicians’ natural desire to gloss over the whole fiasco and quickly forget the part he played in it. Churchill telegraphed Eden: “No attempts should be made to minimize the poignancy of the loss of the Dodecanese. It is, however, just to say that it is our first really grievous reverse since Tobruk 1942. I hope that there will be no need to make heavy weather over this at all.”

On the other hand, the Americans adhered to their perfectly valid point that they were fighting against the Germans and the Russians were their allies. However far-sighted Churchill may have been in 1943, he had already hitched his country to the Soviet cause in June 1941, and his policy of reinforcing Stalin at the expense of the British Far East since then somewhat compromised his later “farsightedness” in the Balkans. After all, Churchill had declared, “If Hitler had invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” If Churchill was dismayed at Roosevelt’s belief that he “could do a deal with Joe,” it must be admitted that he had given the American leader an early lead in pandering to Stalin’s capacious appetite.

Jeffrey Holland, who fought there and returned to the island postwar to ponder the reasons for it all, told us: “The islanders themselves believe that part of the price Churchill would have had to pay (and been prepared to pay) for bringing Turkey into the war would be to accept Turkish sovereignty over the Dodecanese plus Rhodes. Colonel Kenyon thought the whole thing was a bloody shambles.”

As before, it was Turkey that saw things more clearly. Said Giuseppe de Peppo, the Italian ambassador to Turkey, “The Turkish ideal is that the last German soldier should fall upon the last Russian corpse.”

This fiasco in the eastern Mediterranean had shown that Britain alone could not succeed without American participation or backing. The Americans, with their upsurging strength, had now become the major partner, and as such, they were less ready to accommodate views that did not accord with their own. That this was the turning point in Anglo-American strategy is borne out by General Brooke, the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who recorded in his diary on November 1, 1943, that he regretted that he had not had sufficient force of character to swing the American Chiefs of Staff into line with British thinking on the Mediterranean, but although he blamed himself, he doubted whether it was humanly possible to alter the American point of view more than he had succeeded in doing. Henceforth the United States exerted an ever-increasing domination over the conduct of the war, and it took the lion’s share in writing the final chapters in the postwar state of Europe. Not only had it surrendered the chance to beat the Soviets into the Balkans, but when the maps were redrawn later, they were to be even more generous to the greedy appetite of Stalin.

An isolated American view was that of Gen. Mark Clark, who wrote that “the weakening of the campaigns in Italy in order to invade Southern France instead of pushing on into the Balkans was one of the outstanding political mistakes of the war.”

However, Professor Michael Howard dismissed all postwar speculations on the motives of Churchill to thwart the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe as being mainly wrong interpretations of mere wartime expediency on the part of the prime minister. He also added the most pertinent point of all: “The appetites which had been disappointed, especially those for seizing Rhodes and striking across the Aegean at the mainland of Greece, were largely ones which had developed en mangeant and which had not received general Allied—or even general British—sanction.”

There is one puzzling thing that is hard to understand: When the provision of on-the-spot air cover was so vital to the campaign, and the land-based fighters were not forthcoming, why was it that the navies of the two largest maritime nations the world had ever known could not provide aircraft carriers as a substitute? The British fleet alone had several carriers—two fleet carriers, Illustrious and Formidable; a light carrier, Unicorn; and three escort carriers, Attacker, Hunter, and Stalker—on station at the beginning of September, when the total number of British fighter aircraft were but a drop in the ocean of the Allies’ grand total of 4,000 aircraft. To have detached even the escort carriers to operate in the Aegean would have brought the cruisers and destroyers the respite they needed. Indeed, a year later this was done and worked. Instead, they were all withdrawn from the Mediterranean during this period because of heavy losses their aircraft sustained in deck landings supporting the Salerno operation. Perhaps the need for aircraft carriers, even in the landlocked waters of the Mediterranean, is the foremost lesson to be drawn from this campaign. In view of British defense decisions between 1963 and 1997, it seems that nobody in government understood or heeded this lesson, a blindness culminating in the absolute worst of misjudgments—that made by the Thatcher government just before the Falklands War—to sell off the last British carriers and not replace them.

After the Allies had missed their main chance in the Balkans, the Aegean did indeed become a backwater. The German garrisons there were allowed to wither on the vine, and the Allies were satisfied that those troops were locked up away from the fronts in Italy and, later, France. It did not affect the Germans much, for Rome did not fall that easily, nor was Italy quickly conquered. The newly formed Raiding Forces carried out pinprick raids in their usual daring manner, and later escort carriers and cruiser-destroyer strike forces inflicted damage on the German convoy routes, as did strikes by RAF forces. The Soviet steamroller finally plowed through to the north sucking under Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, and eventually the Germans withdrew from the Balkans in December 1944. The Allies could take little advantage then; indeed, the British had to make considerable effort in Greece to prevent the establishment of a Communist government, and Yugoslavia and Albania went the same way.

It is, however, futile to wring one’s hands over what might have been. There was no guarantee that the mere conquest of the Aegean would have brought Turkey into the war on the Allies’ side, nor that the Germans would have abandoned Greece. The Allies were never prepared to follow up with a main assault on the Balkans, no matter what the German reaction to the loss of the Aegean might have been. And even if they had achieved success there, it was at Teheran and Potsdam, and not on the battlefield, that the fruits of battle were decided.

What If: The Kamikaze and the Invasion of Kyushu? I

The lecture on logistic considerations for the recent invasion of Kyushu was going well. Nearly 160 students, faculty, and guests filled Pringle Auditorium at the Naval War College on this blustery Tuesday evening in November 1946 to hear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner. A 1908 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Turner had commanded the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force of more than 2,700 ships and large landing craft during the invasion. The 101 students in the class of 1947 were veterans of the largest war in history, and the transfer of nearly all of the Atlantic Fleet’s assets to the Far East after Normandy had insured the participation of every navy and marine officer at the college in either the final, mammoth operation at Kyushu or the even more massive operation planned for later in the Tokyo area. Likewise, all but two of the dozen army, air force, and coast guard officers—plus the single student from the State Department—had seen service in the Pacific. The college’s new president, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, had himself commanded the 5th Fleet during the invasion and whispered to an aide that his longtime friend and colleague was “in top form tonight.”

It was good to see Turner doing well, and Spruance reflected that speaking before the assembled officers—particularly these officers—would do him nothing but Turner had only two weeks earlier concluded his testimony in the last of three Congressional inquiries held after the armistice with Imperial Japan, and even before those, had been summoned back to Washington on three separate occasions in the midst of the war to testify on matters relating to December 7, 1941. During those earlier proceedings, he had been subjected to considerable cross-examination because of his prewar duty in the navy’s War Plans Division, and the first hearings after the armistice again dealt with Pearl Harbor. There was very little of substance that he had been able to add to the second postwar hearings, since the joint House-Senate committee was investigating events surrounding the tactical use of nuclear weapons and the resultant deaths and sickness recorded so far among some 40,000 U.S. military personnel. However, the most recent hearings of the Taft-Jenner committee had been another matter entirely, and Turner rapidly became the focus of its investigation into why the navy, after more than a year of experience battling Japanese suicide aircraft, had been “caught napping” by the kamikazes off Kyushu.

“Pearl Harbor II,” as it was dubbed by the press, saw thirty-eight troop-laden Liberty ships and LSTs, along with a score of destroyers and twenty-one other vessels, struck within sight of the invasion beaches during X-Day and X+l. Six other vessels were crashed by shinyo speedboats filled with explosives that darted into the assault groups during the confusion, and a further ten Liberty ships were hit by kamikazes from X+2 to X+6. The bulk of the 29,000 dead and missing were ground troops, with an equal number of soldiers and marines turned into stunned refugees after discarding all their gear during frantic efforts to abandon burning and sinking transports. Finely choreographed assault landings had been terribly disrupted by the incessant attacks and rescue operations. The subsequent lack of proper resupply and reinforcement resulted in nearly triple the anticipated ground-force casualties through X+30 and an unprecedented—and bloody—stalemate until X+20 on the north-eastern-most six of the thirty-five invasion beaches.

More men had been lost in the first two weeks at Kyushu than at the Battle of the Bulge and Okinawa combined, and critics were looking hard for someone’s head to stick on a pike (an “army” pike). Adm. Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, refused to offer up Turner for sacrifice and took full responsibility for the debacle (although it was certainly obvious that there was plenty of blame to go around). Still, the hearings had been brutal, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, from his headquarters in Manila, made it clear that he believed Turner’s “failure to safeguard the lives of our gallant soldiers and marines” had forced America into “an incomplete victory worse than Versailles.” Tonight was the tough old admiral’s first public address since the hearings, and Spruance did all he could to keep news of the event confined to the tight naval community on Coasters Harbor Island in Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. In fact, the only people in attendance not from the Naval War College or Newport Naval Base were retired marine three-star general Holland Smith, who was visiting the son of a longtime colleague, and George Kennan, an assistant to newly appointed Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

The students were held spellbound by the man Spruance regarded as the finest example of that rare combination, a strategic thinker and a fighter ready and willing to take responsibility and plunge into battle.6 Very few of the officers had actually laid eyes on “Terrible” Turner during the Pacific War, and the first round of questions after his presentation were tentative, almost softball. Spruance expected that this wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t.

“Sir, right from the beginning, at Leyte, when the Japs succeeded in forcing a redisposition of the carriers, we started to lose a lot of ships to the suiciders and even conventional attacks. Was it the loss of those transports and LSTs that slowed down the airstrip construction ashore and just made a bad situation worse from the standpoint of air defense?”

A score of supply ships along with a half-dozen destroyer-type vessels had unexpectedly been lost during November 1944. The kamikazes had drawn first blood on October 25-26, when a five-plane raid sank the escort carrier St. Lo and damaged three similar carriers. This had prompted many more young Japanese fliers to volunteer for the Shimpu (Special Attack Corps) unit, and on October 30 a kamikaze attack damaged three large fleet carriers so severely that they had to be pulled back to the Ulithi anchorage for repairs. Within days another large flattop fell victim, as did three more toward the end of November. This stunning disruption of carrier airpower spelled the loss of the ships referred to by the questioner and had a pronounced effect on the conduct of the ground campaign as well. Leyte had not been Turner’s show. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid had been commanding, and Turner chose his words carefully.

“We expected to take losses, but the nature of the Jap attacks was a complete surprise. We expected that our fighter sweeps would take out most of his airpower in the Philippines before the landings. The feeble response to Bill [Admiral William F.] Halsey’s earlier raid in September 1944 led us to conclude that Jap strength in the islands was far weaker than it should have been and we, in fact, canceled intermediate operations and pushed KING II up a full sixty days. There was no way to anticipate the tactics that were used against us. As to air-base development on Leyte, it was not the loss of shipping, but the weather and resultant conditions on the ground that stalled the best efforts of army engineers. We’d owned those islands for over forty years yet did not have a clue as to just how unsuitable the soil conditions were in the area where we sited the Burauen Airfield complex.

“Everyone remembers the newsreels of the theater commander wading ashore from a Higgins boat—I’m sure he did it in one take—[laughter] and his pronouncement that he had ‘returned’ but what few people know is that he was supposed to have retaken Leyte with four divisions and have eight fighter and bomber groups striking from the island within forty-five days of the initial landings. Nine divisions and twice as many days into the battle, only a fraction of the airpower was operational because of that awful terrain. The fighting on the ground had not gone as planned either. The Japs even did an end run, briefly isolated 5th Air Force headquarters, and captured much of the airfield complex before the army pushed them back into the jungle. Colonel?”

Having closed with a comment on the army, he motioned to one of several soldiers attending the college. He noted that the officer wore the scarlet crossed-arrow patch of the 32nd Infantry Division, which fought battles on Leyte’s Corkscrew, Kilay, and Breakneck ridges.

“Thank you, sir. In light of the fact that the lack of air interdiction allowed the enemy to transfer four divisions plus various independent brigades and regiments to the island from Luzon, do you feel that the amount of time to take Leyte was excessive?”

The admiral was unfazed by the implied rebuke. “No. Buoyed by pilot reports of both real and imagined losses to our fleet, the Japs decided to conduct their main battle for the Philippines on Leyte instead of Luzon. We had originally intended Leyte to act as a springboard to Luzon in exactly the same way that Kyushu was to act as the last stop before Tokyo. But the important thing to remember is that no matter which island we fought them on, the Japs had only a finite number of troops available in the Philippines. Over eighty percent of Jap shipping used during their effort was eventually sunk during later resupply missions, but we obviously would have liked to have sent them to the bottom sooner. The conquest of Leyte eventually involved over 100,000 more ground troops than anticipated and took us so long to accomplish that the island never became the major logistical center and air base we intended. My point is that the Japs were turning out to be much more resourceful than we anticipated and this affected operations all across the board. Does that answer your question?”

“Yes, sir,” said the colonel. But he later told the head of the college’s logistics department, Rear Adm. Henry Eccles, that he had considered commenting that the dearth of army and navy air interdiction was still being felt months later; that a number of Japanese units were actually evacuated from Leyte when ordered off in January 1945, and that he didn’t like fighting the same Japs twice. Eccles said that the colonel had been wise not to press the issue.

Many in the audience now raised their hands with questions, and Turner called on a lieutenant commander from the junior class.

“Admiral, could you comment on the fighter sweeps conducted over southern Japan ahead of the invasion?”

Turner asked him if he could be more specific.

“Yes, sir. Why was there so little attrition of their air forces ahead of Kyushu?”

This had been a subject of much heated discussion both in the press and in the wardrooms. It had even been rehashed in great detail earlier that day in Luce Hall, with the head of the college’s Battle Evaluation Group, Commodore Richard Bates, and about two dozen students.

Kamikazes “Glued to the Ground”

“To a very real degree, gentlemen, we were the victim of our own success,” said Turner. “Throughout the war, increasingly effective sweeps by our aircraft—and the army’s fighters and medium bombers—played havoc with Japanese air bases. And we were sure that many of their aircraft would certainly be destroyed by preinvasion fighter sweeps. But to destroy them on the ground, we would have had to know where they were. Anticipating that attacks would only grow worse as we neared the home islands in force, the Japs stepped up the dispersion of their units and spread aircraft throughout more than 125 bases and airfields that we knew of, and the number was apparently far larger. This effort intensified after we caught hundreds of them on the ground at Kyushu bases preparing for suicide runs at Okinawa. As for the planes slated for use as kamikazes, they didn’t require extensive facilities, and were hidden away to take off from roads and fields around central billeting areas. In addition, dispersal fields were being constructed by the dozen, while use of camouflage, dummy aircraft, and propped-up derelicts performed as desired during our strikes against known facilities.”

Spruance suspected that the questioners already knew the answers, or pieces of the answers, almost as well as Turner, but were deeply interested in the admiral’s unique insight into Pacific operations. The exchange now moved at a very fast clip.

“Sir, intelligence reports made it clear that there were a large number of aircraft available in Japan, but I was surprised that even though we were bombing virtually everything we wanted at will, they would not come up and fight.”

“You weren’t the only one,” replied Turner. “After some initial sparring with our carriers and Far East air force elements flying out of Okinawa, the Japs essentially glued their aircraft to the ground in order to preserve them for use during the invasions. We all know the story. The few high-performance aircraft like the Raiden were used against the B-29s, but that was it. There was no significant employment of aircraft, even during the approach of our fleets, since the Japs believed that being drawn out early would cause needless losses and correctly anticipated that we would attempt to lure their aircraft into premature battle through elaborate feints and other deception measures. They planned for a massive response only when they confirmed that landing operations had commenced.”

“Sir,” said another student, “it has been reported that the Japanese had been planning to use suiciders well before Leyte.”

Turner nodded. “The codicil to the armistice agreement which allows us to formally discuss the conduct of the war with Japanese officers of equal rank brought out some interesting information on that. These discussions, by the way, are continuing. They are certainly not controlled interrogations and the information is sometimes questionable, but the discussions overall have been frank and useful.” The admiral didn’t say it, but he was as amazed as anyone that talks of that nature were even taking place. “As to your question, the growing supremacy of our fleet prompted some Japanese leaders to contemplate the systematic use of suicide aircraft as early as 1943. But it wasn’t until late the following year, after they’d lost many of their best pilots at Midway, the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Marianas, that the kamikaze was seriously considered as a last-ditch alternative to conventional bombing attacks. We’d known this for some time. What we have just learned from our discussions is that the first time that orders were actually handed down for employment of suicide tactics was July 4, 1944, at Iwo [Jima]. Since all the kamikazes were shot down before reaching our ships, we never knew a thing about it.”

“Sir, right to the end there were always Jap pilots who made no attempt to crash our ships. Was that intentional; part of a systematic employment?”

Turner nodded again. “Yes, experienced pilots, deemed too valuable to sacrifice, were to provide fighter cover or fly conventional strikes. In fact, when some of them volunteered for the one-way missions, they were denied the ‘honor’ of killing themselves for the emperor.”

“Sir, with the benefit of hindsight it seems apparent to me that if the tactics employed at Kyushu had been employed at Leyte, their planes would have been able to crash a lot more ships. When they had altitude, you could pick ’em up without much trouble. But if they’d come out of those hills—coming in low rather than flying up here where we could pick ’em up early around 10,000, 20,000 feet and diving down—frankly, the Japs could have massacred our transports in the Philippines. The only upside is that it would have made the danger off Japan’s coast more clear.”

“You never like to take losses,” said Turner, “but if the Japs had used their aircraft as you described at Leyte, the lessons learned from that battle would indeed have made a difference at Kyushu. Okinawa represented the first coordinated effort by Jap pilots to use cliffs and hills to foil our radar, but the size of the island and the distances they had to fly from their bases on Formosa and Kyushu, together with the fact that the Japs had only just begun to experiment in this area, initially limited the usefulness of such tactics. Nonetheless, they did enjoy numerous successes when kamikazes appeared so suddenly out of the radar clutter that even fully alert crews of ships close ashore had little time to respond. And of course, response times naturally stretched out once the fatigue of being constantly at the alert began to set in. All kinds of tactical innovations were developed ad hoc as we gained more experience with the new threat. Ideas were shared throughout the fleet and crews incorporated any innovations they thought would be useful— anything to increase point defense capabilities by shortening antiaircraft weapons’ response times. Would you like to comment on that, Commodore Bates?”

“Certainly, sir. By summer 1945, slewing sights for the five-inch gun mount officers’ station were helping to ensure quick, non-radar-directed action, and many ships had begun to rig cross connections between their five-inch guns’ slow Mark 37 directors and the 40mm guns’ more nimble Mark 51s. These changes—and a projectile in the loading tray—enabled the five-inchers to come on line more quickly to counter sudden attacks, but switch back to the longer-range Mark 37 directors if radar found possible targets at a more conventional range. The new Mark 22 radar, which allowed early and accurate identification of incoming aircraft, was also widely distributed by the time of Majestic. It had little impact on the fighting close to shore, but proved its worth over and over again with the carriers.

“Prior to the appearance of the kamikazes, 20mm anti-aircraft guns had been the greatest killers of Jap planes. After that, however, their lack of hitting power rendered them little more than psychological weapons against plunging kamikazes. Commanders relied increasingly on the larger 40mm guns, because they could blast apart a closing aircraft. As more became available, we jammed additional mounts of the twin- and quad-40s into already overcrowded deck spaces on everything from minesweepers and LSTs to battleships and carriers.”

A voice rang out from the back of the hall, “But we wouldn’t let you take away our ‘door knockers’!” a remark followed by general laughter.

Admirals Turner and Spruance grinned widely at the shouted comment, but the chief of the Battle Evaluation Group offered only a half-smile.

“As I was saying, although 20mm guns had proved ineffective against a plunging kamikaze, that did not mean crews were eager to do away with them in order to free up deck space. These weapons at least had the advantage of not being operated electrically. Even if a ship’s power was knocked out, the ‘door knockers’ could still supply defensive fire. The new three-inch/ 50 rapid-fire gun is a wonderful weapon. One gun is as effective as two—that’s two—quad 40s against conventional planes, and against the Baka rocket bomb the advantage was even more pronounced. It took fully five quad 40s [twenty guns] to do the work of a single three-inch/50. Unfortunately, very few crews had been properly trained for it by Majestic.

“Reviewing the outcome of the extended radar picket operations off Okinawa,” continued Bates, “COMINCH [Commander in Chief, United States Fleet] came to the conclusion that one destroyer cannot be expected to defend itself successfully against more than one attacking enemy aircraft at a time— many did, in fact, but were eventually overwhelmed—and noted that, in the future, a full destroyer division should be assigned to each picket station if the tactical situation allowed such a commitment of resources. We were able to do this at four of the sixteen picket stations at Kyushu, but all the other stations had to make do with a pair of destroyers and two each of those special gunboats made especially for operations against Japan [LSMs with one dual and four quad 40mm mounts], which were far more heavily armed than the gunboats used at Okinawa.

“COMINCH also found that while large warships’ and aircraft gunnery was not affected greatly by evasive maneuvers, violent turns by a diminutive destroyer to disturb the aim of the kamikaze, or to bring more guns to bear during a surprise attack, caused extreme pitches and rolls that degraded accuracy. Gunnery improved dramatically when destroyers performed less strident maneuvers, even if fewer guns could be brought into play quickly.”

What If: The Kamikaze and the Invasion of Kyushu? II

The officer students were more willing to respectfully interject themselves into Commodore Bates’s comments than they were to interrupt Turner, and a former destroyer captain immediately spoke up.

“That’s theoretically true, sir, but anyone who experienced the Philippines and Okinawa, or the raids on Japan, knows that in most instances you can’t actually do that and live to tell about it. The suiciders had apparently been told that, since they didn’t need the broad targets normally required for aiming bombs, the best results in their type of mission would come from bow—or stern—on attacks that allowed them to be targeted by the least amount of defensive fire. I’d seen new skippers follow COMINCH advice on this matter and the only thing that happened was a sort of Divine Wind ‘crossing the T,’ made much easier by less radical destroyer maneuvers.”

A former executive officer chimed in. “I’ve been told that even a novice pilot can be trained to perform skids, or sideslips, and when we were hit—I was on the Kimberly target skidded to always remain in the ship’s wake—and we were on hard right rudder! Only the afterguns could bear, and each 5-inch salvo blasted the 20mm crews off their feet. The Val came in over the stern, aiming for the bridge, and crashed aft the rear stack between two 5-inch mounts.”

Admiral Turner was not surprised that, given an opportunity, the talk turned to tactics. He quickly moved to elevate the discussion.

“Early in the war, after Pearl Harbor, Malaya, and the Java Sea, things looked bleak for our surface ships—and those of the Japanese as well. Naval aircraft were clearly dominating any vessels they came up against. The fielding of the proximity fuse in 1942 and 1943 increased the odds that our ships would fight off their aerial tormentors, and by 1943—just two years after Pearl Harbor—the balance of power had firmly shifted into America’s favor as our industrial base, our training base, added warships, attack aircraft, and large numbers of skilled aviators to the fleet. The duel between ships’ guns and aircraft, however, came full circle with the advent of the kamikaze. Destroying ninety percent of an inbound raid had been considered a success before Leyte, but the damage inflicted by even one suicide aircraft could be devastating. It was obvious that the invasion of Japan would entail terrible losses, and we moved to defeat the threat through increased interdiction, effective command and control, more guns, and everything we could think of to knock them down before they reached our ships.”

“Sir,” interjected a member of his audience, “one of the points noted over and over again in intelligence reports before Kyushu was that the Nips didn’t even have enough gas to train their new pilots; that, cut off from their oil in the Dutch territories and with all their refineries destroyed by the [B-29] Super-forts, they would be hard-pressed to maintain flight operations. I don’t really know anyone at my level who bought into this, but was it a factor in why we provided so little air cover at the landing sites?”

“I’ll answer that in two parts,” said Turner after a moment’s deliberation. “First, everything you said about their ability to import and refine oil was true, but not to the degree that some believed. The other part of the picture dealt with evidence from signals intelligence and the Japs’ lack of fleet activity, which appeared to be a clear sign that they had run out of gas. Their navy had drastically curtailed combat operations because of a lack of heavy fuel oil, and we were aware that shortages were the primary factor behind the ratcheting down of flight hours in their pilot training. Moreover, reports obtained from neutral embassies also indicated that the civilian population had not only been deprived of liquid fuel but that badly needed foodstuffs, such as potatoes, corn, and rice, were also being requisitioned for synthetic fuel production. We also believed that our attacks had destroyed nearly all of their storage capacity. So, while we were aware that some large number of aircraft had been successfully hidden from us, the recurring weakness of their response to our attacks reinforced the idea that those aircraft were no longer able to defend effectively.

“What we did not know was that the Japs had made a conscious decision early on to build up decentralized fuel reserves separate from those used for training, a reserve which would only be tapped for the final battles. They had seen the writing on the wall when we reestablished ourselves in the Philippines, and succeeded in rushing shipments past our new bases in February and March before that avenue was choked off. Although we sank roughly two-thirds of the tankers running north, four or five got through with 40,000 tons of refined fuel. This shipment and some domestic production formed the core of what became Japan’s strategic reserve, which included 190,000 barrels of aviation gas in hidden army stockpiles and a further 126,000 barrels held by the navy. To give you an idea of just how much gas we’re talking about here, the Japs used roughly 1.5 million barrels during flight operations against our fleet at Okinawa but—and this is important—at Okinawa they had to fly roughly triple the distances they did over Japan.

“Their perceived inability to send up large numbers of aircraft encouraged us to believe that the landing area’s immediate defense could be left to our escort carriers, while the nearly 1,800 aircraft of Task Force 58’s fleet carriers were assigned missions as far north as 600 miles from Kyushu, well beyond Tokyo. Aircraft from only two of Admiral Spruance’s task groups were dedicated to suppression efforts north and east of the screen thrown up by Adm. [Clifton A. E] Sprague’s escorts. I and others argued strenuously—and unsuccessfully—that this was taking a lot for granted. We didn’t need a show of force all up and down Honshu. We needed a blanket of Hellcats and Corsairs at the decisive point. We needed them at Kyushu. Yes, command and control would be extremely difficult, maybe impossible, with that many planes concentrated over that airspace. But it would be worth it if the Japs succeeded in massing for an all-out lunge at the transports—and that’s exactly what they did.”

“Sir, weren’t there also fewer escort carriers taking a direct part in the invasion than there might have been?”

“Yes,” replied Turner, “but a certain amount of that was unavoidable. A total of thirty-six escort carriers took part in some facet of Majestic, but many had to be siphoned off to protect the far-flung elements of the invasion force. For example, four escort carriers were assigned to provide cover for slow-moving convoys plying the waters between the Philippines and Kyushu against more than 600 Jap aircraft that could be brought into play through their bases on Formosa. Sprague had sixteen flattops with approximately 580 aircraft available for both the direct support of the landing force and defense of the assault shipping. Plans called for roughly 130 aircraft to be on-station from dawn to dusk to provide a last ditch defense of the landing area. Of course, far more aircraft were required to maintain a continuous, seamless presence, and even more were siphoned away from ground support as they were at Okinawa. The ability of the CAPs (combat air patrols) to actually maintain coverage of this area once battle was joined—the CAP checkpoints averaged fifteen miles apart over a clutter of cloud-covered peaks—proved to be extraordinarily difficult and broke down quickly. We didn’t have enough depth. The CAPs were drawn away from the barrier patrol by the first Japs coming through. We had expected that there would be some leakers— possibly quite a few—but did not anticipate that they could successfully coordinate and launch as many aircraft as they did.”

“It sounds to me, sir,” observed his questioner, “that they had figured us out.

“It’s clear that they’d developed plans based on a comprehensive understanding of the set-piece way in which we do business—our amphibious operations,” acknowledged the admiral, “and that their plans extended well beyond air operations. In fact, they were so confident in their analyses of our intentions that they moved a number of divisions into Kyushu before our airpower—our ability to interdict them—had been built up sufficiently on Okinawa. The Japs were one step ahead of us. Our intelligence noted the appearance of these reinforcements which, when combined with the units already there and the new divisions being raised from the island’s massive population, presented us with an awful picture, but one that we could have dealt with if we had been able to get our forces ashore intact.

“There’s an interesting footnote for future historians on this matter. Some of you may know that the original name of the Kyushu operation was Olympic, but do you know why the code name was changed? When intelligence discovered the rapid buildup, it was believed that the invasion plans may have somehow been compromised. The change from Olympic to Majestic represented an effort to confuse Japanese intelligence when, in fact, the changes were based on analyses conducted within Imperial headquarters. The Japanese had correctly deduced both the location and approximate times of both Majestic and Coronet and decided to expend the bulk of their aircraft as kamikazes during the critical first ten days of each invasion. The landing forces themselves were to be the main focus of Japanese efforts, with additional aircraft allotted to keep the carrier task forces occupied.”

More than a few of the officers present would have liked to be told how Turner knew this but knew better than to ask, and the next question returned to the kamikazes. It came from another former destroyer captain.

“Sir, irrespective of how many of our own aircraft were used for suppression of Nip bases and defense of the landing zones, it seems to me that the very large number and close proximity of their bases—and Kyushu’s mountains—created virtually ideal conditions for the suiciders.”

“Yes. I’ve had a good deal of time to think about this. The Japanese had seven interrelated advantages during the defense of the home islands that they did not have at Okinawa.

“First, their aircraft were able to approach the invasion beaches from anywhere along a wide arc, thus negating any more victories along the line of the [Marianas] Turkey Shoot or the Kikai Jima air battles [north of Okinawa], where long distances required Jap aircraft to travel relatively predictable flight paths.

“Second, Kyushu’s high mountains masked low-flying kamikazes from search radars, thus limiting our response time to incoming aircraft. Plans were made to establish radar sites within our lines and on the outlying islands as quickly as the tactical situation allowed, but this had only a minor effect on the central problem—the mountains. In addition, most shore-based radar units during Majestic were not slated to be operational until after X+10—and by then the kamikaze attacks were drawing to a close.

“Third, we knew that the Japs were suffering from a severe shortage of radios, and some among us discounted their ability to coordinate attacks from dispersed airfields and hiding places through use of telephone lines. At this point in the war, however, Jap reliance on telephones was more a strength than a weakness. No communications intercepts there. Our forces could neither monitor nor jam the land lines and, like the Jap electrical system, it presented few good targets for air attack.

“The fourth advantage was related to the second and had to do with the virtually static nature of our assault vessels while conducting the invasion. Because the ships disembarking the landing force were operating at a known location, kamikazes didn’t have to approach from a high altitude, which allowed them the visibility needed to search for far-flung carrier groups yet also made them visible to radar. Instead, they were able to approach the mass of transports and cargo ships from the mountains and then drop to very low altitudes. The final low-level run on the ships offered no radar, little visual warning, and limited the number of antiaircraft guns that could be brought to bear against them. It wasn’t difficult to see that this was going to be a problem during Majestic, since a much larger percentage of kamikazes got through to their targets when flying under radar coverage to fixed locations, like Kerama Retto anchorage [Okinawa], than those approaching ships at sea from higher altitudes.

“I want to stress, however, that despite the advantages offered by radar picking up the high-fliers, ships operating at any fixed location invited concentrated attack, and the radar pickets near certain Japanese approach routes to Okinawa suffered much more than those on the move with fast carrier task forces. The lack of predictable approach routes at Kyushu only exacerbated the situation.

“Fifth, we had begun extensive use of destroyers as radar pickets as early as the Kwajalein operation in January 1944, and by the end of that year comparatively sophisticated CICs (combat information centers) were effectively providing tactical situation plotting and fighter direction from select destroyers. Unfortunately, coordination within and timely communications from the radar pickets’ newly installed CICs presented a problem, with the centers frequently becoming overwhelmed by the speed of events and sheer quantity of bogies. Add a nearby landmass to the equation, and things got dicey in a hurry.

“Sixth, as previously noted radar coverage of the countless mountain passes was virtually nil during the Kyushu operation, and the 5th Fleet CAPs attempting to form a barrier halfway up the island were essentially on their own because they were frequently out of direct contact with the pickets assigned to control the checkpoints. The barrier patrol over the 120-mile-wide midsection of Kyushu and Amakusa-Shoto, an island close to the west, were able only to find and bounce a comparatively small percentage of attackers coming through the mountains, and this number shrank even further in areas with a modest amount of cloud cover. As it turned out, Majestic was launched at a time that the weather was ideal for Japanese purposes— and I might add the same would have been true for Coronet. Not only did the moderate-to-heavy cloud cover, ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 feet, tend to mask the low-level approach of aircraft to the landing beaches, but the inexperienced Jap pilots searching for carriers out to sea from high altitudes also found that these clouds provided good cover from radar-vectored CAPs while being no great hindrance to navigation.

“Last, and perhaps most important of all, a proportionately small number of suicide aircraft got through to the vulnerable transports off Okinawa because of the natural tendency of inexperienced pilots to dive on the first target they saw. As a result, the radar pickets had, in effect, soaked up the bulk of the kamikazes before they reached the landing area. Accomplishing this entailed terrible losses even though the destroyers had their own CAPs and were sometimes supported by LCSs and LSMs acting as gunboats. At Kyushu, however, there were no radar pickets on the landward side of the assault shipping to absorb the blows meant for the slow-moving troop transports and supply vessels, which had to lock themselves into relatively static positions offshore during landing operations. These were the ships that kamikaze pilots were specifically to target, and circumstance and terrain went a long way toward helping them achieve their goal of killing the largest number of Americans possible.

“While all this must seem like a wonderful example of twenty-twenty hindsight, I believe that we could have anticipated much more of this ahead of time if we had not been lulled by the lack of air opposition in the months preceding Majestic. It was simply inconceivable to many of us that they would be willing to take the degree of punishment that they did from the air without fighting back. It crossed few minds that they were, in effect, waiting to see the whites of our eyes. Next question.”

“Sir, wouldn’t this also tie in with why we didn’t disperse our blood supplies ahead of the invasion?”

The young captain’s question touched on one of the most grim facets of the invasion. Five LST(H)s, one for each set of invasion beaches, had been outfitted as distribution centers for plasma and whole blood needed by the wounded ashore. Even before the first waves of landing craft hit the beaches, one had been turned into an inferno and another sunk by midmorning of X-Day. For many thousands of wounded ashore, this was a disaster of terrible proportions. The landing beaches now denied blood supplies had been unable to receive assistance from the remaining three vessels because of excessive casualties in those ships’ own assigned areas. Although it was difficult to calculate precisely, estimates of the number of wounded whose deaths might have been prevented if the immediate blood supply had not been nearly halved ran as high as 4,100. Emergency shipments were rushed up by destroyer from Okinawa and flown direct to escort carriers off Kyushu aboard Avenger torpedo bombers from the central blood bank on Guam. These emergency shipments, together with blood donated by bone-tired sailors after the last air raids of the day, enabled the situation to be stabilized by X+4.

“The care and storage of blood products is a complicated matter. It is a valuable—and highly perishable—commodity that needs to be stored in and distributed from refrigeration units. The system for blood distribution at Kyushu made perfect sense in light of these requirements and past experience. The blood supply expert on MacArthur’s staff had, in fact, pointed out the vulnerability of the system to be employed, but lack of proper facilities had rendered any worthwhile changes impossible on such short notice.”

Even Turner realized that his answer sounded like it had been written by a press officer, and he quickly moved on to the next question by pointing to an officer in the third row who had raised his hand twice before.

Deception Operations

“Sir, with all the ships we produced during the war, why didn’t we create a dummy invasion fleet? Why didn’t we make more of an effort to draw their planes out early so that we could get at them?”

The admiral did not answer immediately, but instead cast a glance at the poker face of Spruance, sitting to his left. Had the young captain thought of this himself or had he picked up on clues in the newspapers where references to an elaborate deception operation—not carried out—were already beginning to leak from an unannounced, closed-door session that Turner had with the Taft-Jenner committee? The room was deathly quiet as the admiral looked back to the podium and drew a deep breath. The men—the veterans—in the room deserved to get an answer.

“Certain deception operations were conceived ahead of Majestic,” he began. “Code-named Pastel, they were patterned after the very successful Bodyguard operations conducted against the Nazis before, and even well after, the Normandy invasion. Through those operations, very substantial German forces were held in check far from France in Norway and the Balkans, and a well-equipped army north of the invasion area was kept out of the fight until it was too late to intervene effectively. Deception operations of this type were particularly effective in Europe, with its extensive road and rail nets, but were a waste of time against Japan proper. They all assumed a strategic mobility that the Japanese did not possess for higher formations—corps and armies—and were made even less effective by our own air campaign against the home islands, which essentially froze those formations into place. Distant movements could only be made division by division and only at a pace that a soldier’s own feet could carry him. Likewise, the success of the blockade rendered the deception operations against Formosa and the Shanghai area unnecessary.

“The Japanese, themselves, had realized this early on, and their system of defense call-up and training during the last year was reoriented toward raising, training, and fielding combat divisions locally in order to minimize lengthy overland movements. With major population centers within easy marching distance of threatened areas, they could actually get away with this. The most useful comparison to our own history might be the Minutemen.”

Turner could see that some of the students were questioning the relevance of his comments and were wondering if he was going to dodge the question altogether.

“In short,” he continued, “we spent far too much time and energy trying to keep the Japanese from doing something that both we and the Japs knew they couldn’t do anyway. To the specifics of your question, in May of last year, I, along with Admirals Spruance and [Marc A.] Mitscher, were replaced by Bill Halsey and his crew so that we could begin planning for Kyushu. I regretted not being able to see Okinawa through to the finish, but Iceberg was to have been wrapped up in forty-five days, and since the 5th Fleet of Admiral Spruance had been selected to handle Kyushu, what was then called Olympic, planning could not be delayed any further.

“Our work was conducted back at Guam and took full account of what we had learned at Okinawa. It was my conclusion that kamikaze attacks of sufficient strength might so disrupt the landings that a vigorous resistance ashore against our weakened forces would put our timetable for airfield construction in serious jeopardy. Four months was the minimum time judged necessary for base construction and subsequent softening up before our landings near Tokyo. These, in turn, had to be conducted before the spring monsoon season, when use of our armored divisions from Europe would become impossible on the Kanto, or Tokyo, Plain. The landing force had to get off to a running start, and it was up to us to get them there in the best possible shape. What we proposed was exactly what you suggested form a fleet—a dummy fleet carrying no men; no equipment—escorted by the usual screen but with the air groups rearranged to carry a preponderance of Hellcats and Corsairs.

“It had to look credible, especially from the air. Feints at Okinawa, that we had considered quite impressive, had absolutely no discernible impact on the course of the campaign. Moreover, communications intelligence made it clear that the Japs were expecting us to try something like that again and we estimated that we would have to utilize 400 ships, not counting the escort, in order to provide enough mass to be convincing. Assault shipping and bombardment groups would form up at multiple invasion beaches. We would follow all normal procedures— heavy radio traffic, line of departure, massive bombardment. All of this would take time, of course, and the Japs would be able to get a real good look at us. They would judge it to be the real thing because it was—minus a half-million troops! They would send up thousands of aircraft to come after us and we would be able to concentrate virtually all of our airpower, by sectors running from Nagoya [south-central Honshu] through Kyushu, and we would knock them down. There would be leakers. We would lose ships and many good sailors. But at the end of the day—actually three days—we’d pull out.

“The Japs would undoubtedly believe that they had repelled the invasion. Those same ships and others, however, would be at Okinawa, at Luzon, at Guam, loading for the real knockout. We would be back at Kyushu in just two weeks and this time there would be so few meatballs left that we could handle them easily. Preparations for Operation Bugeye were begun in early June at Pearl [Harbor] and Guam.”

A slight pause in Turner’s commentary precipitated a sea of hands raised across the floor. The Class of ’47 was a sharp group, and it was not hard to guess what was on their minds.

What If: The Kamikaze and the Invasion of Kyushu? III

Typhoon Louise Strikes

“Was it Louise,” asked one, “was it the October typhoon that killed the plan?”

“Ultimately, yes. It had been a hard sell to begin with. The shipping crisis that had come to a head at Leyte had never been completely solved and there was a legitimate concern that if too much was lost during Bugeye we would be hard-pressed to fulfill our needs during Majestic. We received the go-ahead for Bugeye only after certain numbers of assault ships of every category had been pulled from the operation. Vessels like the thirty-eight to be used as blockships for Coronet’s ‘Mulberry’ harbor would have been completely satisfactory for the feint, and yet though many were virtual derelicts, we were nevertheless required to preserve them for Tokyo. I need not remind you that construction of the artificial harbor carried a priority second only to development of the atom bomb, and that we were producing seven unique, heavy-lift salvage ships in two classes especially for the invasion. As things turned out, four of the six that had arrived in-theater survived Typhoon Louise and were fully employed with salvage operations at Okinawa till nearly Thanksgiving.

“Everyone in this room is painfully aware of the disaster at Okinawa. Every plane that could be gassed up was sent south [to Luzon] and most were saved. The flat bottoms [assault shipping and craft designed to be beached] weren’t so lucky. Six-hours’ warning was not enough. Shifting cargoes in the combat-loaded LSTs sent sixty-one of 972 LSTs to the bottom; 186 of 1,080 LCTs went down or were irretrievably damaged; 92 of 648 LCIs—the list goes on. Plus a half-dozen Liberty ships and destroyers. At least they couldn’t blame this one on Bill. This storm took on mystical proportions to the Japanese war leaders who had defied the Emperor and taken over the government when he tried to surrender during the first four atomic attacks in August.” Harkening back to the original “Divine Wind,” or kamikaze, that destroyed an invasion force heading for Japan in 1281, they saw it as proof that they had been right all along. Their industrial base in Manchuria was gone because of the Soviet invasion, their cities were in ashes, but the Japs were even more certain that we would sue for peace if they just held out.

“Any chance of carrying out the feint was gone. With a little more time, the shipping losses—greater in tonnage than Okinawa—could be made up. But there was no time. The Joint Chiefs originally set December 1, 1945, as the Kyushu invasion date with Coronet, Tokyo’s Kanto Plain, three months later on March 1.

“What I’m about to say is an important point and I’ll be returning to it in a moment. To lessen casualties, the launch of Coronet included two armored divisions shipped from Europe that were to sweep up the plain and cut off Tokyo before the monsoons turned it into vast pools of rice, muck, and water crisscrossed by elevated roads and dominated by rugged, well-defended foothills.

“Now, planners envisioned the construction of eleven airfields on Kyushu for the massed airpower which would soften up the Tokyo area. Bomb and fuel storage, roads, wharves, and base facilities would be needed to support those air groups, plus our 6th Army holding a 110-mile stop line one-third of the way up the island. All plans centered on construction of the minimum essential operating facilities, but most of the airfields for heavy bombers were not projected to be ready until ninety to 105 days after the initial landings on Kyushu, in spite of a massive effort. The constraints on the air campaign were so clear that when the Joint Chiefs set the target dates of the Kyushu and Tokyo invasions for December 1, 1945, and March 1, 1946, respectively, it was apparent that the three-month period would not be sufficient. Weather ultimately determined which operation to reschedule, because Coronet could not be moved back without moving it closer to the monsoons and thus risking serious restrictions on all ground movement— and particularly the armor’s drive up the plain—from flooded fields, and the air campaign from cloud cover that almost doubles from early March to early April. MacArthur’s air staff proposed bumping Majestic ahead by a month, and both my boss, Admiral Nimitz, and the Joint Chiefs immediately agreed. Majestic was moved forward one month to November 1.

“The October typhoon changed all that. A delay till December 10 for Kyushu, well past the initial—and unacceptable— target date was forced upon us, with the Tokyo operation pushed to April 1—dangerously close to the monsoons. We were going to get one run, and one run only, at the target. No Bugeye. One of the greatest opportunities of the war had been lost.”

At first there were no hands appearing above the audience since they were still absorbing everything that Admiral Turner had said. A navy captain in the second row was the first to break the silence.

“Sir, was there reconsideration at this time of switching to the blockade strategy that we, the navy, had been advocating since 1943?”

Turner’s host that evening, Admiral Spruance, had been outspoken in his belief that such a move was the best course but, like Turner, had followed orders to the fullest of his ability and beyond. Turner knew that he had already said far more than he should on Bugeye and moved to wrap things up.

“I can’t tell you what others were advocating. All I can say is that I was fully, very fully, engaged in carrying out my orders. On a personal note, I would have to say that I believe that the change in plans regarding the use of atom bombs during Majestic was fortuitous. After the first four bombs on cities failed in their strategic purpose of stampeding the Japanese government into an early surrender, the growing stockpile of atom bombs was held for use during the invasion. Initially, though, we did not intend to use them as they were eventually employed against Japanese formations moving down from northern Kyushu. Initially we were going to allot one to each corps zone shortly before the landings.”

Audible gasps and a low whistle could be heard from some in the audience, who immediately recognized the implications of what the admiral was saying.

“Yes,” Turner acknowledged “the radiation casualties we suffered in central Kyushu were bad enough, but they were only a fraction of what would have happened if we had run a half-million men directly into radiated beachheads—and all that atomic dust being kicked up during the base development and airfields construction! The result hardly bears thinking about. It was clear, after the initial bombs in August, that the Japs were trying to wring the maximum political advantage from claims that the atom bombs were somehow more inhuman than the conventional attacks that had burnt out every city with a population over 30,000. At first their claims about massive radiation sickness were thought to be purely propaganda. However, over the next few months it was determined that there was enough truth to what they were saying to switch the bombs to targets of opportunity after the Jap forces from northern Kyushu moved down to attack our lodgment in the south. They had to concentrate before they could launch their counter-offensive, and that’s when we hit ’em. As for the original landing zones, repeated carpet bombing by our heavies from Guam and Okinawa produced the same results that the atom bombs would have, and besides, the big bombers had essentially run out of strategic targets long before the invasion. The carpet bombing gave them something to do.” This remark elicited laughter.

“The Jap warlords were unmoved when atom bombs were employed over cities, but the extensive use of the bombs against their soldiers is what finally pushed them to the conference table. Yes, they changed their tune when they faced the possibility of losing their army without an ‘honorable’ fight, but so did we when it became undeniably clear that our replacement stream would not keep up with casualties.”

Turner looked over at General “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, and continued “One man in this room tonight served in the trenches of World War One. An incomplete peace after that war meant that he and the sons of his buddies had to fight another war a generation later. We can only pray that the recent peace will not end in a bigger, bloodier, perhaps atomic, war with Imperial Japan in 1965. Thank you.”

The Reality

The coup attempt by Japanese forces unwilling to surrender was thwarted by Imperial forces loyal to Emperor Hirohito, and the Japanese government succeeded in effecting a formal surrender before the home islands were invaded. Occupation forces on Kyushu were stunned by the scale of the defenses found at the precise locations where the invasion was scheduled to take place. The U.S. military government eventually disposed of 12,735 Japanese aircraft.

On October 9-10, 1945, Typhoon Louise struck Okinawa. Luckily, Operation Majestic had been canceled months earlier. There was considerably less assault shipping on hand than if the invasion of Kyushu had been imminent, and “only” 145 vessels were sunk or damaged so severely that they were beyond salvage.

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