Four Hollywood Legends That Were in WWII

H/T War History OnLine.

These four people are indeed heroes.

In recent years, movie, TV, and athletic stars have done a great deal of work, either directly or indirectly, for the US war effort or veterans. Football player Pat Tillman comes to mind, as do Gary Sinise and Tom Hanks.

In WWII, movie stars of the day and the future filled the ranks. Books have been written about the hundreds of people in Hollywood that contributed to the war effort in one way or another. Some lost their lives, such as Gone With the Wind star Leslie Howard and movie star Carole Lombard.

Here are four quick stories about some Hollywood legends – or legends to be – who did their part for victory in WWII.

Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart had been an established star in Hollywood for years, working in many box office and critical successes. He is, perhaps, the most famous of all the stars that took part in actual combat during the war.

As an actor, he came to be known as sort of a “guy next door type” – relatable and steady with a biting wit. He was equally talented in both comedies and dramas. However, Stewart’s most dramatic role was his real-life one of a B-17 pilot in Europe during the war.

Maj. Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member.

Stewart was drafted before the war began for the United States and made no attempt to get out of it. As a matter of fact, he was rejected for being too skinny for his height. He went back home and ate and ate, gaining the weight needed, then headed back to the draft board to join up.

James Stewart in front of a Boeing B52.

Stewart had learned how to fly years before. That fact, combined with his celebrity status, resulted in officers putting him behind the lines as a flight instructor.

James Stewart air force photo

Stewart constantly badgered anyone with pull to send him to combat flight training. Eventually, he wore them down. He moved swiftly through the ranks, drafted as a private and ending the war as a colonel.

Jimmy Stewart getting medal

He also flew 20 missions over occupied Europe. He remained in the Air National Guard for years, ending his military career as a brigadier general, all while making movies.

Lt. Col. James T. Stewart & Major Clark Gable – RAF Polebrook, 1943.Photo: Bwmoll3 CC BY-SA 3.0

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is 92 years old as at the time of writing. He has been a Hollywood fixture for decades, spawning some of the most legendary comedies of the 20th century: The 2,000 Year Old ManThe Producers, and Blazing Saddles, to name just three. He has also acted in countless films.

In 1944, he took part in the biggest battle that the US was involved in during WWII – The Battle of the Bulge.

Brooks not only took part in the battle but played an integral role as part of the 1104 Engineer Battalion, 78th Infantry Division. Brooks was often in the lead, defusing mines as his comrades prepared to move forward.

Battle of the Bulge

He was also involved in countless combat actions that cold winter. Showing his sense of humor, Brooks (who is Jewish and whose original name was Kaminsky) got tired of hearing the constant drum of mindless Nazi propaganda coming from loudspeakers in German lines.

So, he secured loudspeakers himself and played Al Jolson records (another American Jewish star, and one the Germans would know) at full volume to drown out the Nazi nonsense.

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

In the 1950s and 60s, Audrey Hepburn was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Of course, her most famous role was that of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

In that role and two of her other famous roles, Hepburn played breathy, ingenue types who were smarter than they let on — much like the Hepburn in real life.

Hepburn was actually British but born in Belgium and lived in Holland. Small, thin and waif-like, her dream was to become a ballerina, but the war interrupted such plans. When the Germans invaded that country, she was 11 years old.

Members of her family (both in Belgium and Holland) paid the ultimate price during the war: an uncle was executed by the Germans, and her brother was a forced laborer in Germany.

For a long time, people propagated the story that Hepburn had been a member of the Resistance during the war, acting as a child courier and helping to hide Jews. That is still being debated.

Hepburn herself was silent about it throughout her life, other than to relate some horrible wartime experiences.

In 2016, the Dutch museum Airborne Museum Hartenstein reported that it had done extensive research and could not turn up any evidence that Hepburn had been in the Resistance.


However, her parents reportedly were, and in 2018, author Robert Matzen in his book, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in WWII, claimed that he had found proof that Hepburn had been involved as well.

Regardless of whether or not she actively resisted, she did see more than a little girl should see, later saying “We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they’d close the street and then open it and you could pass by again… Don’t discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It’s worse than you could ever imagine.”

James “Jimmy” Doohan

James Doohan Photo: C Thomas CC BY 2.0

Of course, most people know Doohan better as “Scotty,” the beloved engineer on the Starship Enterprise of the original series of Star Trek. But long before that, Doohan was a stage, radio, and TV actor, known for doing accents – like a Scotsman.

Photo of James Doohan as Scotty from the television program Star Trek.

In actuality, Doohan was Irish, but like Scotty, he was a tough customer, and he proved that fact during the war.

As part of the artillery in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, Doohan landed on Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944 — D-Day. After taking out two snipers single-handedly, he led his men through an active field of anti-tank mines to continue their hard-fought advance.

That evening, a green and startled Canadian Bren gunner stitched Doohan from top to bottom with his machine-gun. The future spaceman took four bullets in the leg, one in the chest, and one took off his right middle finger.

After his recovery, he learned to fly and was able to act as a reconnaissance pilot before the war ended.





16 Images of George S. Patton You Probably Haven’t Seen Before

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. General George Smith Patton Jr November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945.

A true warrior general.

George S. Patto

General George S. Patton went down history as one of America’s most beloved military figures whose popularity was only exceeded by his accomplishments in the field of battle.

Hailed as one of WWII’s most uncompromising leaders, he began his military education at the prestigious West Point Academy, where he proved to be a promising candidate.

The would-be legendary general first saw action during the 1915 Pancho Villa Expedition in Mexico. He served as a personal aide to John J. Pershing, who would later assume the commanding role over all American forces in Europe during the First World War.

George S. Patton, Jr., 1st Tank Battalion, and a French Renault tank, summer 1918.

It was this campaign that enabled him to remain Pershing’s aide in Europe and receive the rank of captain. During WWI, Patton would establish the Light Tank School within the American Expeditionary Corps.

From that point on, he would become a cutting-edge tactician of armored warfare ― a trait that would put him at the very center of the war that followed.

General George S. Patton Jr.

As the U.S. involvement in the Second World War brought an unprecedented reliance on tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, Patton’s knowledge in this area landed him the role of establishing the United States Army’s first armored divisions.

Alongside Adna R. Chaffee Junior, he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a commanding general of the 2nd Armored Division by 1941.

General Patton looking through binoculars.


Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton (right) in Bastogne, Belgium.

Patton quickly gained ground in Africa. He was making a name for himself not only among his own troops but among enemy soldiers as well.

In fact, by 1944, after great success in the Sicilian campaign, the German High Command considered him a key figure in the subsequent invasion of Europe that was to take place from England.

General George S. Patton Jr. on Sicily, Italy, 1943. Note the ivory handed revolver.


Patton near Brolo, Sicily, in 1943.

The Allies used this to their advantage, forming an intricate web of fake rubber tanks, weaponry, and misinformation to create the so-called “Phantom Army.”

The Germans were fed false information that this huge troop movement commanded by none other than Patton was the invasion force.

Patton as a lieutenant general.

Due to such subterfuge, the German 15th Army remained locked in Pas De Calais instead of Normandy, even after the initial landings took place on the morning of June 6, 1944.

Once unleashed, Patton’s tanks were decisively victorious in relieving the American troops besieged at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

Bradley and Patton at Bastogne.


Maj. General George Patton and French Gen. Auguste Nogues reviewing American and French troops during a combined parade in French Moroccan city.

He personally considered this accomplishment the peak of his career.

Patton would see the end of Second World War in Germany, but would soon suffer a car accident that led to his death on December 21, 1945.

General George S. Patton in command of US forces on Sicily, 1943.


Gen. George Patton’s homecoming at the end of WWII.

It is interesting to note the diary entry he made upon learning about the capitulation of Japan, as it gives a chilling closure to his remarkable achievements in combat:

“Yet another war has come to an end, and with it my usefulness to the world.”

General George S. Patton is honored with a parade through Los Angeles and a reception at the Memorial Coliseum before a crowd of over 100,000.


Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June.


General Patton with his beloved dog Willie.


Gen. George S. Patton Jr. inspecting a tanker’s helmet while on training maneuvers in the desert in California.
US generals Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Terry Allen, and George Patton. Patton led the US Army to its first victory against German forces at El Guettar.

Fact or Fiction? The Japanese Fighter Plane Shot Down With a Pistol, From a Parachute!

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Colonel Owen John Baggett August 29, 1920 – July 27, 2006.

Lt.Baggett made an odds-defying shot that brought down a Japanese fighter and killed the pilot.

Baggett pulled his 1911 and got off four shots at the pilot who was later found next to where his plane crashed with a bullet in his head.

Owen J. Baggett served as a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Bomb Group of the United States of America Army Forces during World War Two. Initially, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and went through pilot training at the New Columbus Army Flying School, from which he graduated on July 26, 1942.

The 7th Bomb Group was working with the 10th Air Force in India, which was responsible for defending the supply line from China to India as well as interfering with the Japanese supply line from the north of the country to Rangoon, Burma.

The planes assigned to these units were B-24s which the pilots would fly in formation. The main target of Baggett’s unit was Burma. The American pilots would take long flights starting at the base in Pandaveswar, northwest of Calcutta.

A B-24M being shot down

It was during one of these missions that Baggett pulled off a feat so incredible that it almost sounds as if it came straight out of an action movie.

While flying towards their target, the B-24s of Baggett’s unit were intercepted by Japanese fighters. Both sides started firing, but it was Baggett’s plane that received a serious hit to the fuel tanks. Lieutenant Jensen, who was the leader of the team, was also wounded.

The oxygen bottles around Baggett and his comrades shattered. One member of the crew, Sgt. Samuel Crostic, used an extinguisher to try and put the fire out. The Japanese continued to attack relentlessly, so Baggett took Samuel’s place to buy some time for the others to escape.

A Ki-43-II.

However, it soon became clear that the aircraft was finished. The crew was left with no choice, and Baggett and the others jumped from the burning plane moments before it exploded.

The crew opened their parachutes and headed towards the ground, but the danger was not over yet. The Japanese fighters spotted the crew floating to earth and started firing at them. The Japanese manage to successfully shoot two of the crew members while still on the air, and they shot Baggett in the arm.

M1911 pistol

Still in his harness, Baggett thought it best to play dead, hoping to fool the Japanese fighters. However, he pulled his .45 caliber gun out of its holster and rested it against the side of his leg. This quick-thinking would save his life.

One of the Japanese fighters came back to double check that Baggett was really dead. But in the process, the enemy pilot made a fatal mistake: he opened his canopy to take a better look. That’s when Owen raised his pistol and took four shots at the Japanese pilot.

The pilot had slowed the plane to near stalling speed to look at Baggett, and now it went into a spin before it was lost to sight.

Nakajima Ki-43

Baggett reached the ground where Lieutenant Jensen and one of the remaining crew members landed near him. With enemy pilots still circling in the air, they decided to hide behind some trees. Unfortunately, they were captured by the Burmese and turned over to the Japanese.

Sargent Samuel Crostic, Lieutenant Jensen, and Owen J. Baggett were imprisoned in Singapore as prisoners of war. Baggett and his comrades remained in that prison for more than two years, during which time Baggett lost nearly half of his body weight.

A downed Ki-43 of the 50th Sentai

Because he hadn’t seen the plane crash, Baggett was uncertain of whether or not had he shot down an enemy plane with a simple .45 caliber handgun. But his doubt came to an end when his paths crossed with Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, who had also been shot down that day.

Melton passed through the prison camp and told Owen that a Japanese colonel said that the pilot Baggett shot had been thrown free his plane when it crashed. The pilot was subsequently found with a bullet in his head, and it was clear that is was the bullet and not the plane crash that had ended his life.

There are other facts to back up the incredible shooting down of a plane with a 1911 handgun by Baggett. Firstly, there were no other forces around during the time of the action, so no other units could have shot down the plane.

Secondly, all this happened at an altitude of more than 4,000 feet, which means the pilot could have recovered from a stall if he had been alive at the time.

Front view of a Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa

Baggett was released from the prison by agents from the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and stayed on with the newly created Air Force after the war ended.

Back home, he was treated like a celebrity. After he retired from the Air Force, he took a job on Wall Street. Owen J. Baggett passed away in 2006, but the memory of his extraordinary shooting down of a plane with his .45 caliber handgun still lives on today.


The Worst Shark Attack In History & The Sinking Of The USS Indianapolis

H/T War History OnLine.

I read a book titled “Abandon Ship!”: The Saga of the U.S.S.Indianapolis, the Navy’s Greatest Sea Disaster.

If you like history as much as I do this is a worthwhile read.

The 800-odd seamen who survived the sinking of the cruiser were greeted with a horrifying sight when the sun rose. Hundreds of shark fins cutting through the water.

The worst shark attack in recorded history also happened to be a disaster for the US Navy. When, on July 30, 1945, USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine, the Navy didn’t realize the ship had been lost until four days later – after which hundreds of men floating in the ocean for days had been eaten by sharks.

Toward the end of July 1945, the Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis delivered a number of key components to be used for the construction of the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, to the Pacific island of Tinian.

Little did the crew of Indianapolis know of the horrors that lay in wait for them after they had completed this mission.

After delivering the components of the atomic bomb, USS Indianapolis set a course for the Philippines. However, just after midnight on the 30th of July, the cruiser was spotted by a Japanese I-class submarine. The Japanese didn’t hesitate to attack and successfully torpedoed the American ship.

USS Indianapolis (CA-35), 27 September 1939

Indianapolis was hit by two Japanese torpedoes, each of which did terrible damage. One hit a store of aviation fuel, and the other hit the ship’s own fuel tanks. The resulting explosions ripped the cruiser in half. The ship went down in 12 minutes, with around 300 seamen losing their lives as it sank.

USS Indianapolis had 1,196 sailors on board, and the 896 who survived the sinking must have thought that, despite the horrific nature of the disaster, a rescue effort would be close at hand. As it turned out, though, salvation would not come for four days – and those four days in the open sea would be four days of terror.

The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939.

The danger of sharks to US servicemen – especially Navy personnel – in the Pacific has been known since the beginning of the war. Indeed, in July 1942, the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS, which was the predecessor to the CIA) started to investigate the possibility of developing a shark repellent to be used by Naval servicemen.

Indianapolis’s intended route from Guam to the Philippines

A number of different substances and combinations of substances were used in various OSS experiments. While initial progress was slow, a working formula was eventually found by combining copper acetate with black dye. It was proposed that pellets of this formula be attached to life jackets to keep sharks away from men in the water.

Japanese submarine I-58 (1943)

Unfortunately for the servicemen aboard USS Indianapolis, the Navy didn’t issue them with any of this shark repellent (which was later used up to the ‘70s, including on NASA equipment that came back from space and landed in the ocean).

The forward torpedo room of I-58 while at Sasebo in 1946 just before the submarine was scuttled.

The 800-odd seamen who survived the sinking of the cruiser and lived through the night were greeted with a horrifying sight when the sun rose the next morning: hundreds of shark fins cutting through the water.

The sharks had been attracted by the blood of all the sailors who had perished or been wounded from the explosions on Indianapolis, as well as by the thrashing of many bodies in the water.

Oceanic whitetip with a rusty fish hook in its mouth.Photo: Alexander Vasenin CC BY-SA 4.0

A huge number most likely, oceanic whitetips (one of the most aggressive species of shark), began to swarm around the men who were bobbing in the water in lifejackets and life preservers.

A model of the I-No. 58 submarine (late type) of the Imperial Japanese Navy.Photo: 利用者:宮本すぐる CC BY-SA 3.0

There were plenty of bodies floating in the water for the sharks to feast on – but the feeding frenzy that ensued soon began to attract more and more sharks. And when the hundreds of sharks that had arrived finished with the floating bodies, they turned their attention to the living.

Survivors of Indianapolis on Guam in August 1945

The sailors in the water quickly realized that their chances for survival would be maximized by banding together in groups. In this way, they could kick and punch approaching sharks together and keep an eye on each others’ backs.

Those men who were already injured, though, stood little chance against the ravenous animals. Anyone who was bleeding was attacked repeatedly until they succumbed. Individual men in the water made for easy targets for the sharks, who dispatched them swiftly.

USS Indianapolis (CA 35), off Guam, July 18, 1944. Left to right: Admirals Chester W. Nimitz; Ernest J. King; and Raymond A. Spruance. Indianapolis was Spruance’s flagship.

Even for those lucky enough to have made it onto one of the few life rafts that had survived the sinking, things were difficult, to say the least. Almost no food or water had been salvaged from the cruiser because it had sunk so quickly. In addition, those on the life rafts were completely exposed to the sun.

Dehydration set in quickly, and within a day or two, some men were so tormented by their thirst that they started drinking seawater, which soon brought about an agonizing end. As the salt poisoning took effect, these men would often go mad and begin thrashing around in a frenzy – which not only attracted more sharks but also got them agitated and fired up to attack.

Survivors of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) are brought ashore from the U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) at Guam, 8 August 1945.

Sometimes, as these men drowned, they would grab onto other men in the water, and the force of their struggles would pull their comrades under the waves. In a desperate attempt to survive, some men would push the bodies of recently-deceased comrades toward the sharks in an attempt to draw the beasts’ attention away from themselves.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) arrives at Guam, carrying survivors of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35), 8 August 1945.

All in all, it is not certain how many seamen succumbed to shark attacks, how many drowned, and how many perished from ingesting seawater. What is known for certain is that the sharks who swarmed around the survivors for four days ate hundreds of the men. Estimates of the fatalities directly linked to the sharks range from dozens to over 150.

Survivors of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) are brought ashore from the U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) at Guam, 8 August 1945.

The remaining survivors were finally rescued four days after Indianapolis sank when a Navy aircraft flying over the ocean spotted the men floating in the ocean.

The Navy had actually intercepted a transmission from the Japanese submarine that had sunk the cruiser but had dismissed it as a ploy to lure American vessels into the area for an ambush.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) arrives at Guam, carrying survivors of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35), 8 August 1945. The bow of the destroyer escort USS Steele (DE-8) is visible in the foreground.

Of the 1,196 servicemen who had been on the cruiser when it was torpedoed, only 317 lived to tell the tale. It was the greatest loss of life in a single incident in the history of the US Navy, and it remains to this day the worst shark attack in recorded history.

The U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS St. George (AV-16) at Guam, on 8 August 1945. The ambulances in the foreground are awaiting the arrival of the hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) with survivors of the sunken heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35).

The US Navy blamed the captain of Indianapolis, Captain Charles McVay, for the disaster, stating that he failed to follow a zigzag course and thus made his ship vulnerable to attack.

McVay was court-martialed in December 1945, but even though he was later restored to active duty, he was consumed by guilt and eventually took his own life.

McVay was officially exonerated from blame by President Clinton and Congress in 2000. For the captain of USS Indianapolis, though, the official exoneration came a few decades too late.

Amazing Innovation or Billion Dollar Blunder? The Norden Bombsight

H/T War History OnLine.

A look at the history of the Norden Bombsight.

Left: Enola Gay bombardier Thomas Ferebee with the Norden Bombsight on Tinian after the dropping of Little Boy. Photo: Ted H. Lambert. Right: A Norden bombsight in the nose of a U.S. Air Force Douglas B-26C Invader during the Korean War.

The U.S. went “all in” on the Norden bombsight before the war, subsequently doubling down on it and its variations during the conflict.

In the interwar period of the 1920s and 30s, nations worked tirelessly to develop technologies that could better utilize aerial bombardments to destroy or at least limit a country’s ability to make war.

The U.S. was no different. It sought to create technology that would reduce the exposure of ground forces to enemy combatants. The idea was simple: destroy large formations, capital ships, and industry before they could engage friendly troops, thus reducing casualties significantly.

This was no easy feat since a typical bomber at 20,000 feet would need to drop their bomb load accurately roughly two and a half miles before they reached their target. They wuld also be past the target area by the time the bombs actually hit the target.

Norden M1 bombsight

The U.S. Navy’s prayers were answered when a group of engineers led by Carl Norden developed a bombsight that he famously claimed: “Could put a bomb in a pickle barrel from 20,000 feet.”

The U.S. Army Air Corps soon followed the Navy’s lead and the two forces combined to fund the development and production of the Norden bombsight. A sum of $1.5 billion U.S. had been spent on the concept by the end of the war.

The Norden bombsight at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Photo: Allan J. Cronin / CC BY-SA 3.0

To put the project’s importance and expense in perspective, consider that the U.S. spent a total of $3 billion U.S. on the Manhattan Project to produce the world’s first atomic bombs. When compared to today’s dollars, these sums were astronomical.

Of course, we know the results of the Manhattan Project clearly, but just how effective was the “cutting edge” technology of the Norden bombsight? And did it accomplish what it was tasked with achieving?

Photo of the AFCE and Bombsight shop ground crew in the 463rd Sub Depot affiliated with the USAAF 389th Bomb Group based at Hethel, Norfolk, England

Your Mission if You Choose to Accept

The U.S. went “all in” on the Norden bombsight before the war, subsequently doubling down on it and its variations during the conflict. The development of this piece of equipment and the technology involved was kept shrouded in secrecy.

Depending on the source, between 70,000 and 100,000 of the devices were produced for the U.S. military in the 30s and 40s.

The Norden bombsight was intended to solve four problems facing the commanders of the United States military.

Exterior view of the nose turret and bombardier’s station on a B-17. Photo: Mark Wagner / CC BY-SA 2.5

First, the Norden was to assist the U.S. Armed Forces in reducing an enemy’s capability for war through precision bombing. Such missions would incorporate large, fast bombers conducting daylight attacks on the enemy’s industrial capacity and transportation infrastructure.

Second, the technology was intended to enable U.S. Naval and Army air forces to accurately bomb enemy formations such as ships, bunker complexes, and even moving formations. The hope was to incapacitate such forces before they could bring their weapons to bear on American soldiers and sailors.

An early bombsight, 1910s.

Third, the device had to work in combat conditions while being operated by a pilot or bombardier who had been trained on what was essentially an analog computer.

Lastly, the bombsight’s pinpoint accuracy was packaged to the Congress and the public at large as a means to reduce or eliminate collateral damage to civilians and other unintended targets.

Every effort was made to keep the particulars of the Norden bombsight secret even from U.S. allies during development, production, and use in combat. Bombardiers gave an oath not to reveal how the device worked if captured by the enemy.

Norden bombsight crosshairs, 1944 English countryside

Performance – Big bucks, but No Bang!

Many studies and much analysis have been done on the effectiveness of the Allied bombing campaign during World War II. It has been debated whether the number of resources allocated to the campaign combined with the loss of life (both aircrews and enemy casualties) and the accuracy of the attacks justified the effort and expense expended.

The U.S. Air Force, as it became known after the war, has given probably the most favorable reviews of the campaign. An official audit that was carried out after the war concluded that in relation to the 8th Air Force, 31.8% of its bombs from 21,000 feet hit within 1,000 feet of their target.

Cologne in 1945, despite being hit dozens of times by Allied bombs, the Cologne Cathedral survived the war

This was the most optimistic assessment. Others had the hit ratio as low as 5%. Malcolm Gladwell used data during a TED Talk of a 22-mission campaign on a chemical factory in Germany during WWII that revealed only 10% of 85,000 bombs hit their target.

The raids that Gladwell speaks of occurred in 1944 so they involved experienced crews and bombardiers. Also, the target wasn’t small — it was a huge complex over 700 acres. The results: the factory was back in business in a matter of weeks.

So, considering how the Norden addressed the first problem facing it, we have to ask: was the Allied bombing campaign able to eliminate Germany’s ability to stay in the war? Quite simply, no. Most research suggests that Germany’s lack of natural resources and manpower played a much greater part.

A raid by the 8th Air Force on the Focke Wulf factory at Marienburg, Germany (1943).

To answer the second requirement is a much easier task. The Norden bombsight was totally abandoned by the U.S. Navy early on in the process in favor of dive and torpedo bombing of enemy ships. The reason: accuracy.

The U.S. Army was no different when it came to attacking enemy ground forces. It relied heavily on fighter-bombers to provide accurate fire support, and these planes weren’t fitted with Norden bombsights. Instead, the pilots used dive-bombing and strafing attacks.

Even on D-day in 1944 against static beach emplacements, the vast majority of pre-invasion bombers missed their targets completely, leaving the fortifications intact for amphibious and naval forces to deal with.

The nose turret of the B-25J “Heavenly Body”, which was on display and available for tour at the Pacific Coast Dream Machines vehicle show at the Half Moon Bay Airport in Half Moon Bay, California. Photo: BrokenSphere / CC BY-SA 2.5

Was the Norden bombsight able to function properly in typical combat conditions? Also a resounding no. Despite extensive training of over 50,000 bombardiers, the biggest problems with the Norden bombsight had little to do with the bombardiers themselves.

Most importantly, the device was designed so that the bombardier could manually line up the target in the bombsight and then let the Norden take over the calculations. However, the bombardier needed to see the target first.

Anyone familiar with Europe knows that daylight doesn’t necessarily mean sunlight. The existence of clouds is more common than not, and consequently, aircrews couldn’t always precisely locate their targets.

The ruins of Wesel in 1945, 97% of all buildings in the city were destroyed by Allied bombing

Additionally, crews were flying at higher altitudes, faster speeds, and in the face of enemy flak and fighter planes. The Norden required a constant speed and heading to be effective, but that also made the bombers susceptible to the enemy.

Finally, there was the large number of instances where the bombsight didn’t work properly even under good conditions. The main reason for this was that the mass production of the Norden meant that sub-contractors had to be used to meet the demand. This led to countless production errors.

A page from the Bombardier’s Information File (BIF) that describes the components and controls of the Norden Bombsigh

The last stipulation in the development and production was the secrecy of the project. Yet again, the project failed.

Germany already had the plans of the Norden bombsight over two years before the U.S. entered the war. A German working for Carl Norden had copied the plans and sent them to Germany where he later vacationed and explained the inner workings of the device.

Ironically, the German Luftwaffe decided that the bombsight wasn’t practical for their purposes. It was too complicated for the user, had too many small moving parts to be produced in quantity, and was seemingly no better in accuracy than their own bombsights.

In a 2009 thesis written by Michael Tremblay on the Norden bombsight, he points out a telling quote from a pilot described an in-flight emergency during the war.

Caen, Normandy after Allied bombings on July 8 and 9, 1944

“I ordered the crew to dump everything overboard. All the ammunition, machine guns, even the Norden Bombsight which Lieutenant Fitzsimmons took a great deal of pleasure tossing out.”

The willingness and pleasure of the crew in throwing out the Norden is very telling of the lack of respect the airmen had for its value, despite its super secret nature.

Lastly, the failure of the publicly lauded aim to utilize technology to avoid collateral damage against civilians is most appropriately illustrated by the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There, the bombs hit within 800 and 1500 feet respectively of their targets by utilizing the Norden bombsight.

Flame Fougasse The Highly Effective Anti-Tank & Anti-Everything Device

H/T War History OnLine.

I heard Viet Nam Veterans telling of using Fougasse in Viet Nam but I was not aware of its history.

Stock Image

During the early stages of the Second World War, it began to look more and more likely that the Germans would stage a full-on invasion of Britain – the first invasion of the island by a foreign foe in hundreds of years. In preparation for the coming invasion, Britain’s Home Guard began to set up a number of defenses.

One such defense was the terrifyingly effective flame fougasse – essentially barrels of petroleum and oil that, when detonated, would engulf enemy tanks or armored cars in ferocious fireballs as large as 50 square yards in area.

The idea of the flame fougasse did not originate in the Second World War. Instead, the use of similar weaponry goes as far back as the sixteenth century, when fougasses were invented. These early fougasses were crude but effective (when they worked), and basically consisted of a large hole or hollow dug in the ground which was filled with gunpowder and projectiles like rocks or scrap metal.

A demonstration of ‘Fougasse’, somewhere in Britain. A car is surrounded in flames and a huge cloud of smoke. c 1940.

These primitive fougasses were ignited by a rudimentary black powder fuse, which could be risky to the man igniting it, and which generally gave away the position of the fougasse to the enemy. However, in later centuries the fuse was modified so that it could be ignited by flintlock, and later by tripwire mechanisms, effectively turning fougasses into the first anti-personnel fragmentation mines.

Fougasses saw a good deal of use throughout a number of wars in Europe, as well as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War in America. However, it was not until the Second World War that the fougasse concept was refined and made into a far more effective and reliable form of weaponry.

Demigasse installation diagram.

For the purpose of defending Britain against invading German forces, who would no doubt come with a large force of tanks and armored cars, the flame fougasse – a fiery refinement of the centuries-old fougasse concept – would prove a potent and effective means of defence, in tests conducted by the Home Guard, at least.

Fougasse charge diagram.

Developed by the British Petroleum Warfare Department, the flame fougasses with which the Home Guard intended to defend Britain were initially filled with a mixture of 25% petroleum and 75% oil, which later was changed to 40% oil and 60% petroleum, inside a 40-gallon steel oil drum.

Safety fougasse installation diagram.

Detonation of this highly flammable mixture was achieved with ammonal, an explosive made from aluminum and ammonium nitrate. Larger 50-gallon drums were also used, and an improved mixture of lime, tar and a different type of petroleum later replaced the 40/60 oil and petroleum mix.

When detonated, the fireball generated by the explosion was formidable to say the least; covering an area of up to 50 square yards per barrel. The heat of the flames was beyond intense, and any unfortunate invader caught in the raging torrent of fire would be dead within seconds.

Those who were in tanks or armored cars, even if shielded from the flames would likely be roasted alive inside their vehicles as the heat turned the steel boxes into ovens.

Remains of a flame fougasse barrel at Danskine Brae, near Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland.Photo: James T M Towill CC BY-SA 2.0

In order to increase the effectiveness of these weapons, they were strategically placed in areas where approaching vehicles would be forced to either stop or slow down. As such, they were often hidden in banks on the side of the road where there were sharp bends, steep inclines, o other geographic features that would cause vehicles to have to slow down.

As the target vehicle passed the flame fougasse, it would be detonated by a person nearby hiding behind cover, who activated the fuse.

The detonator was the weak point of the flame fougasse. Because ammonal – a cheap, easily-produced industrial explosive – is easily damaged and rendered ineffective by moisture, whoever was manning the flame fougasse installations (which usually consisted of four barrels used together) would have to wait until the enemy was fairly close before inserting the detonator.

Petroleum Weapons Against Invasion- a Demonstration of Anti-invasion Defences, UK, 1945

In preparation for the expected German invasion, around 50,000 flame fougasse barrels in approximately 7,000 different installations were set up all across Britain. Fortunately, the German invasion of the British Isles never happened, and none of the flame fougasses in Britain were ever used in combat.

Diagram of a flame fougasse made with a 55-gallon drum as a battlefield expedient, 1967.

The concept of the flame fougasse was a crude but effective one, and while not guaranteed to stop a German invasion in its tracks, it certainly would have impeded an invading force and probably taken out a good number of tanks and other military vehicles.

A flame barrage demonstration staged by the Petroleum Warfare Department at Mid Calder in Scotland, 28 November 1940. Barrels of petrol were projected using a ‘hedge hopper’ device and ignited electrically, and were intended for use against enemy tanks and vehicles.

The concept of the flame fougasse was also used by Soviet forces during the Second World War, most notably in the defense of Stalingrad. The Germans had their own version, called the Abwehrflammenwerfer 42, but this was far smaller and different in design to the British flame fougasse.

The design for the flame fougasses that Britain intended to use during WWII was improved over the years, and flame fougasses were used in later conflicts, such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Designs for flame fougasses are still, in fact, part of the current British battlefield manual, Combat Flame Operations. Hopefully, however, flame fougasses will never need to be put into action.

Repairs at Sea: Floating Dry-Docks of World War II

H/T War History OnLine.

How many lives were saved and battles won because of the Floating Dry-Docks?

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) drydocked in an Advanced Base Sectional Dock (ABSD) at the Pacific, circa 194

With few other ports offering facilities able to cope with such massive vessels, the American Navy got creative in its solutions.

When the United States of America entered World War II, the nation faced a slew of logistical problems unique to each theater. From the sands of Vichy-occupied Africa to the hedgerows of France, American soldiers fought a largely conventional modern war as envisioned by strategists. The Pacific Theater would prove a very different campaign.

The forces mustered against the Empire of Japan in the Pacific faced a host of difficulties, the most obvious being the need for a lengthy logistical train for their forward units.

Though the modern technology of the time mitigated those problems to some extent, the sheer scale of the campaign in terms of mileage created difficulties for all parts of the American military. Troops traveled long distances even as they hopped from island to island to force back the Japanese.

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Columbia (CL-56) docked in the floating dry dock USS Artisan (ABSD-1) at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, in January 1944.

In addition, airplanes needed outposts and aircraft carriers to land, refuel, and rearm. Pivotal to all this was the need to keep the Navy supplied, armed, and afloat.

AFDB-1 with West Virginia (BB-48) high and dry in the dock, off Aessi Island, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 13 November 1944.

Repairing and refitting the large carriers, cruisers, and battleships deployed in the Pacific required sizeable drydock installations. Though the drydocks in Pearl Harbor were repaired and useable during the war, their distance from the campaign theater meant ships requiring repairs had a long way to go.

With few other ports offering facilities able to cope with such massive vessels, the American Navy got creative in its solutions.

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Lunga Point (CVE-94) enters a floating drydock at Guam, in May 1945.

The Navy’s solution was portable floating drydocks. Officially designated Advance Base Sectional Docks (ABSD), the moveable docks consisted of large pieces welded together to allow repairs at sea or in those instances where proper repair and refit facilities didn’t exist at a nearby port.

The ABSDs came in two sizes. The smaller of the two, combined from eight sections welded together, could support a ship of up to 8,000 tons in weight, 120 feet wide, and 725 feet long. The larger docks were built from ten sections and could hold a ship up to 90,000 tons.

USS Artisan (ABSD-1) with USS Antelope (IX-109) and LST-120 in the dock at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides Islands, 8 January 1945

Despite being top heavy, the docks could be safely (though slowly) towed thanks to clever construction and foldable walls. They included cranes with a 15-ton lift limit, crew housing, and diesel generators.

By the war’s end, four small docks and three large docks were completed and in service. The first dock entered use in 1943, with the others quickly following.

Naval Air Station, San Pedro, July 13, 1945

The drydocks proved their worth countless times, allowing repairs and refits much closer to the campaign theater and allowing vessels too damaged to make their way eastward a chance to continue the fight. From destroyers and troops ships to battleships and aircraft carriers, the ABSDs kept the United States Navy operational and pressing forward against the Japanese.

Even with the war’s end, their service continued. ABSD-1, the first of the massive floating drydocks in use, continued intermittent service for decades after World War II. Parts of it were decommissioned, scrapped, and utilized throughout the latter half of the twentieth century.

USS Makin Island (CVE-93) halfway into USS ABSD-6, at Guam, 8 June 1945

It even continued supporting the Navy in some small way as parts of it served as a drydock during the Korean Conflict. The last piece in service was decommissioned in 1998.

The portable drydocks were an answer to the problem of a far-flung navy fighting a regional naval power without having to send its forces long distances for repairs or having to scuttle vessels too badly damaged to make the journey. Thanks to the floating drydocks, the United States Navy managed to keep pressing the advance as they forced the Japanese back island by island.

Los Alamos (AFDB-7), with a repaired submarine at Holy Loch, Scotland in 1985

Even after the war, they continued to aid the Navy and bridge the logistical gap between the American homeland and the far-flung theaters of the Cold War. Thanks to their use and American ingenuity, the brutality of the Pacific Theater ended all the more quickly.