This RAF Tail Gunner Jumped From A Burning Plane Without A Parachute And Only Twisted His Knee

H/T War History OnLine.

God was surely looking out for Nicholas Alkemade that night.

On a cold March night in 1944, a British airman jumped out of a Lancaster bomber at an altitude of 18,000 feet. His aircraft was crippled and he was forced to jump. This doesn’t seem too unusual among the thousands of airmen who found themselves in similar situations during WWII, but this particular crewman’s story was unique. He jumped without a parachute.

After falling for over a minute, Nicholas Alkemade survived the landing with just a broken leg. The story of his survival has been spoken about ever since.

Nicholas Alkemade

Alkemade was born in North Walsham, Norfolk on December 10, 1922. Before the war, he worked a humble job as a market gardener in Loughborough, but after the war broke out he joined the RAF. When he completed his training he was assigned to No. 115 Squadron as a rear gunner on an Avro Lancaster bomber, which he and his fellow crewmembers named “Werewolf.”


Werewolf had completed 14 missions when it departed for Berlin on March 24, 1944. The aircraft left RAF Witchford in Cambridgeshire with her crew of seven just before 7 pm.

The aircraft successfully completed the trip to Berlin and started the long journey home, but bad timing would soon cause a catastrophe. The group of returning bombers were battered by strong northern winds and were pushed south. As a result, the aircraft ended up flying over the heavily defended Ruhr.

While over Germany, Werewolf came under attack from a German Ju 88 night fighter. Cannon and machinegun fire from the Ju 88 battered the Lancaster’s starboard side and started a fire that ran almost the entire length of the aircraft.

The perspex surrounding Alkemade’s turret was blown off and he was blasted by the ice-cold air rushing past the bomber.

After a brief wrestle with the stricken aircraft, the pilot, James Newman, gave the order to bail out. This was no easy task for Alkemade though, as the Lancaster’s rear turret was too small to accommodate a gunner and his parachute. Alkemade would have to enter the rear section of the Lancaster and grab it; essentially an impossible situation for a bomber rapidly falling out the sky.

When he opened the turret doors he was faced with a fiery inferno in the fuselage that prevented him from reaching his parachute, which was burning anyway. His own uniform began to burn, so he closed the turret doors. This brief moment of safety was interrupted when the turret’s hydraulic fluid caught alight, spraying him with liquid fire.

Alkemade now only had two choices: stay in the aircraft or jump. Both guaranteed death. He chose to jump.

No parachute, no problem

Alkemade later described what went through his head:

“I had the choice of staying with the aircraft or jumping out. If I stayed I would be burned to death – my clothes were already well alight and my face and hands burnt, though at the time I scarcely noticed the pain owing to my high state of excitement…I decided to jump and end it all as quick and clean as I could. I rotated the turret to starboard, and, not even bothering to take off my helmet and intercom, did a back flip out into the night. It was very quiet, the only sound being the drumming of aircraft engines in the distance, and no sensation of falling at all. I felt suspended in space. Regrets at not getting home were my chief thoughts, and I did think once that it didn’t seem very strange to be going to die in a few seconds – none of the parade of my past or anything else like that.”

Burnt, descending at a speed of 120 mph and expecting death, Alkemade lost consciousness at some point during the fall.

But miraculously, Alkemade awoke three hours later in a pile of snow. Above him were the stars glistening in the frigid night. He lit a cigarette and checked himself over, realizing that apart from a twisted knee, some bruises, and the burns he received in Werewolf, he had survived the fall completely unscathed. Not bad for a 3.4-mile fall.

He had landed on a pile of snow about 18 inches thick in a small fir forest. This was an amazing stroke of luck, as the group of trees had protected the snow from the sun. Only around 20 feet away was clear ground with no snow. The fir tree branches also helped to slow down his descent.

Nevertheless, Alkemade was still injured and couldn’t walk so he bravely gave a blast of his whistle and hoped help would come his way. He was soon found by some German civilians who got him medical treatment.

Naturally, the Gestapo arrived and interrogated the British airman, who they suspected of being a spy since he had no parachute. He insisted that he had fallen without one, but understandably they refused to believe him. He told the Gestapo to find his parachute harness near where he landed. This would prove that no parachute had been used while attached to it. They found the harness and the wreckage of the bomber, which still held the remains of his parachute.

Afterward, Alkemade became a minor celebrity in the prisoner of war camps he was held in. He survived the war and returned to civilian life, working at a chemical plant. While here he was involved in a number of extremely close calls.

Instead of dying on impact with German soil, Nicholas Alkemade passed away in June 1987.

Celebrities During WWII: The Hollywood Victory Committee

H/T War  Hisrory OnLine.

Celebrities today I doubt if many or any of the would do what the 1940’s Celeberties did in their efforts to sell bonds anf help America win a war.

For many, the start of World War II meant yet another conflict that would affect everyday life. The vast majority of Americans didn’t want to get involved, and many businesses feared losing money from European markets, Hollywood included. For the most part, movie studios didn’t want to alienate the new German administration – that is, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

From then on, support for the war effort skyrocketed and everyone banded together to fight America’s enemies.

Creation of the Hollywood Victory Committee
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt approached Hollywood‘s most influential figures and asked them to get involved in the war effort. He called upon them to push the sale of war bonds, explain new government policies and raise compliance with rationing programs.

Clark Gable sitting before a microphone
Clark Gable sitting before a microphone
Clark Gable urging the purchase of War Bonds in support of the 3rd War Loan Drive program, England, 1943. (Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images)
Roosevelt’s request prompted the Screen Actors Guild to create the Hollywood Victory Committee, a way for performers to promote the war effort and increase the morale of troops both in America and overseas.

The committee’s first chairmen was actor Clark Gable, who not only encouraged his fellow celebrities to get involved, but to actively join the military. He led by example and enlisted, along with the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Reagan. Other chairmen included George Murphy, James Cagney and Sam Levene.

Hattie McDaniel standing with members of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee

Hattie McDaniel standing with members of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee
Hattie McDaniel was the chairman of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Academy Award-winning actress Hattie McDaniel was the chairman of the Negro Division, which provided entertainment for those troops in American hospitals and stationed at the country’s many military bases.

Thousands of events held over the course of its existence
Between January 1942 and August 1945, the Hollywood Victory Committee organized events both within the US and overseas. Many of its stars appeared in shows put on by the USO, with many travelling to the British Isles to entertain troops with musical and variety performances.

Radio broadcasts were an integral part of the committee’s initiatives, as they granted the ability to reach millions of people with ease. As such, many stars were recruited to record messages promoting the purchase of war bonds and raising funds for charity.

Lana Turner standing beside a large sign featuring a thermometer
Lana Turner standing beside a large sign featuring a thermometer
Lana Turner promoting the sale of war bonds. (Photo Credit: Virgil Apger / Getty Images)
The committee also encouraged movie theaters to get involved in the war effort. Many became collection centers for items needing to be recycled – primarily scrap metal – with celebrities often leading these drives. Actress Rita Hayworth, for example, went as far as to donate the front and back bumpers of her car to prompt others to give what they could.

Theaters also became blood donation centers, with members of the committee making public donations. Some establishments even offered free admission to those who donated.

Group of movie stars standing in front of a theater stage

Group of movie stars standing in front of a theater stage
Stars holding a pageant with the Hollywood Victory Caravan troupe in St. Paul. (Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society / Getty Images)
It’s estimated that within the nearly four years it ran, the Hollywood Victory Committee held 56,037 free appearances over 7,700 events, including 120 overseas tours. Its stars covered five million miles in their effort to entertain troops and encourage support for the war effort.

Poster promoting the Hollywood Victory Caravan

Hollywood Victory Caravan
One of the committee’s most notable successes was the Hollywood Victory Caravan, which ran for two weeks in the spring of 1942. It aimed to raise money for the Army and Navy Relief Society, and involved two dozen movie stars coming together to ride the rails and perform shows along the way.

Members of the Hollywood Victory Caravan standing under a sign advertising the event

Poster promoting the Hollywood Victory Caravan
Hollywood Victory Caravan promotional poster. (Photo Credit: LMPC / Getty Images)
Inspiration for the caravan came from the all-star war bond show held at New York City‘s Madison Square Garden on March 10, 1942. To ensure the two-week journey could occur, the Santa Fe Railroad donated a special train with 14 railcars, which had on-board rehearsal facilities, including ten musicians, two pianos and two portable dance floors.

The train set off from Los Angeles on April 26, 1942, where it traveled to Washington, D.C. for the White House Tea Party. From there, it hit Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Dallas and Houston. Those aboard included Bob Hope, Carey Grant, Bing Crosby, Olivia de Havilland, Desi Arnaz and Merle Oberon, among others.

The shows lasted approximately three and a half hours, and consisted of variety-type performances. Each star was given a brief role, with Bob Hope and Carey Grant sharing the role of master-of-ceremonies. In total, the endeavor netted over $700,000.

Members of the Hollywood Victory Caravan standing under a sign advertising the event

Members of the Hollywood Victory Caravan standing under a sign advertising the event
Members of the Hollywood Victory Caravan. (Photo Credit: Gene Lester / Getty Images)
Upon its completion, each performer was presented with an engraved press book of newspaper stories from each city and a commemorative photo album. In 1945, Paramount Pictures teamed up with the War Finance Committee and the Department of the Treasury to produce a short film based on the traveling show, in which many of the performances were featured.

L-4 Grasshopper Pilot Charles Carpenter Was A German Tank’s Worst Nightmare

H/T War History OnLine.

To say the least that L-4 Grasshopper Pilot Charles Carpenter was a brave and maybe a little wackie would be an understatment.

There are few pilots as decorated as Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter. After joining the Army in 1942, he went on to become one of the most fearsome Tank Aces in the European Theater, causing the Germans to rethink their position on the L-4 Grasshopper and its capabilities in battle.

Sent to serve in the European Theater

Charles Carpenter enlisted in the US Army in 1942 for flight training. After being commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was sent to France in 1944, where he was assigned to General George Patton‘s 4th Armored Division. He was tasked with being an artillery spotter and assigned to an L-4 Grasshopper – better known by its civilian name, the Piper J-3 Cub.

Charles Carpenter standing in front of his L-4 Grasshopper
Charles Carpenter with his L-4 Grasshopper. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

While the L-4 was perfect for low-level, low-speed reconnaissance missions, it wasn’t a fighter plane. It only had room for two people, and was almost identical to the civilian Cub, aside from the fact that rear windows and plexiglass skylights were installed for added visibility. While it was able to hit a top speed of 85 MPH, its small size meant its occupations and on-board equipment exceeded its weight limits.

Comfortable with his role at first, Carpenter soon craved a more active role – and it wasn’t long until he found it. While scouting for advanced landing fields near Avranches, France, he came across a US unit pinned down by German soldiers. Carpenter immediately jumped atop a .50-caliber machine gun, fired at the enemy units and rescued his comrades.

General George Patton standing in military uniform
General George Patton, 1944. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

He then ordered the troops to follow him into the German-occupied town, despite not being their commander. While the US forces were able to capture it within minutes, the engagement was not without error. In the midst of the fighting, Carpenter ordered a tank to fire at what he thought was an enemy vehicle. However, it turned out to belong to the US, and he was immediately arrested and threatened with a court-marshal.

Thankfully for him, his actions impressed General Patton, who awarded him a Silver Star and reportedly said Carpenter was “the kind of fighting man I want in my Army.”

The man of many nicknames

Inspired by other L-4 pilots, Charles Carpenter eventually installed six M1A1 bazookas to the wing struts of his aircraft. With the aid of an ordnance tech and a crew chief, the launchers were wired into the cockpit, allowing them to fired by flipping electrical switches. Each could fire a single rocket-propelled grenade capable of penetrating three inches of armor plating.

His first notable accomplishment in the air came during the Battle of Arracourt on September 20, 1944, a counteroffensive launched by the German 5th Panzer Army in response to US advances in France. During the fighting, Carpenter used his bazookas to take out a German armored vehicle, along with four tanks.

L-4 Grasshopper parked on the grass
L-4 Grasshopper. (Photo Credit: Michael Cole / Getty Images)

After upgrading his launchers to the M9 platform, Carpenter gained the ability to fire M6A3 High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds. This opened up a new world of possibilities for the pilot, who used his flying skills to dive directly at enemy tanks and open fire just 100 meters above the ground, before pulling straight up and getting out of the way of return fire.

Carpenter’s exploits included destroying a German column advancing toward Allied troops, before landing and taking six enemy soldiers prisoner with a rifle he found on the ground, as well as flying three combat sorties during an engagement with German soldiers. This latter fight resulted in him not only breaking up the attack but destroying two tanks in the process.

His exploits gained him fame in the United States

Charles Carpenter’s actions in Europe gained him notoriety back home. His actions were covered in a host of publications, including the Associated PressStars and StripesLiberty magazine, Popular Science and the New York Sun. They also afforded him many nicknames: “Bazooka Charlie,” the “Mad Major” and the “Lucky Major.”

He gave many interviews to the press, which not only generated support for troops serving in Europe but also lent themselves to the legend that was Charles Carpenter. Speaking with a reporter, he once said that his idea of fighting a war was to “attack, attack, and then attack again,” and in another interview expanded on this, saying, “Some people around here think I’m nuts, but I just believe that if we’re going to fight a war, we have to get on with it sixty minutes an hour and twenty-four hours a day.”

Newspaper clipping about Charles Carpenter's military exploits
Newspaper clipping from October 3, 1944. (Photo Credit: Lawrence Journal-World / Google News)

He also credited his actions as being the reason why the German Army changed its opinion of the L-4, from a plane not worthy of attention to one needing to be shot down. “Word must be getting around to watch out for Cubs with bazookas on them,” he once told Stars and Stripes. “Every time I show up now they shoot with everything they have. They never used to bother Cubs. Bazookas must be bothering them a bit.”

Retirement from the Army

In 1945, Charles Carpenter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and given a prognosis of no more than two years. As such, he was honorably discharged from the Army. During his service, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and along with his Silver Star was awarded a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and an Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Carpenter was officially credited with destroying or disabling six German tanks, two of which were the fearsome Tiger Tank, and several armored vehicles, making him a Tank Ace. However, it’s believed his unofficial total is much higher.

Newspaper clipping featuring Charles Carpenter's image
Newspaper clipping from October 11, 1944. (Photo Credit: The Deseret News / Google News)

In civilian life, Carpenter returned to his pre-war career as a history teacher in Urbana, Illinois. During the summer, he ran a boys’ camp in the Ozarks, focusing on teaching outdoor skills and building character. In 1966, he passed away from Hodgkin’s disease, defying the odds given to him by medical professionals and leaving behind a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

The Mysterious Disappearance and Discovery of the Lady Be Good

H/T War History OnLine.

On 4 April 1943, an American B-24D Liberator named Lady Be Good mysteriously disappeared while returning from a bombing run over Naples. The aircraft seemingly vanished into thin air. In 1958 a British oil exploration team discovered the wreckage of a large aircraft laying in the Libyan Desert. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed to be the wreckage of Lady Be Good that went missing 15 years before.

The story of her disappearance, her time capsule-like rediscovery, and her crew’s grit is nothing short of incredible.

Lady Be Good

Lady Be Good was a new aircraft when she was assigned to the 514th Bomb Squadron on March 25, 1943. Her crew was also fresh, having arrived in Libya the previous week. Lady and her nine-man crew flew their first, and what would be their last mission together on April 4. The formation was to take off in waves from Soluch airstrip in Libya and make their way to Naples in Italy, 700 miles away.

Lady was one of the last aircraft to depart from Soluch. On the way, the formation ran into powerful sandstorms, which forced most of them to return back to base. Lady Be Good carried on.

When she reached Naples at 7:30 pm at an altitude of 25,000 feet, the target was hidden by poor visibility, so the bombers turned around and headed home. The aircraft dropped their ordnance into the Mediterranean Sea to reduce their weight and conserve fuel.

On their return to Soluch, Lady Be Good, who was flying alone, encountered problems. At 12:00 am, the aircraft’s pilot, Lieutenant William Hatton, radioed Soluch informing them that their automatic direction finder was not working and that they needed the directions to the airfield. However, these directions never came, causing the B-24 to fly straight over the airfield and deep into the Sahara Desert.

By 2:00 am the aircraft was running on fumes, so the crew parachuted out. Without anyone onboard, the ghostly aircraft carried on alone for another 16 miles, descending along a shallow trajectory and hitting the ground relatively gently.

A search and rescue mission was launched but did not find the aircraft or its crew. It was assumed that Lady Be Good had crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Its loss was a mystery.


Lady Be Good Discovery
The Consolidated B-24D Lady Be Good as it appeared when discovered from the air in the Libyan desert. (Photo Credit: United States Air Force)

Lady Be Good remained one of WWII’s many unsolved mysteries until 1958. A British Petroleum exploration team was flying over the Libyan Desert in November 1958 when they spotted the wreckage of a large aircraft. They were unable to inspect the wreckage themselves but reported its location.

In May 1959 a team ventured out to the location of the wreckage and found it to be the missing plane Lady Be Good. They instantly noticed its remarkable, time-warp-like condition.

Lady Be Good was broken in two, but the gentle nature of the crash and bone-dry conditions of the desert meant the aircraft was perfectly preserved. The team found containers still filled with water, a flask that still contained coffee, and the crew’s personal possessions such as clothes and the navigator’s logbook.

Lady Be Good Crash
Nose view of Consolidated B-24D Lady Be Good crash site. The plane made a surprisingly good pilotless belly landing and skidded 700 yards before breaking in half and stopping. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In addition, the B-24’s .50 caliber machine guns still worked, with the investigators actually firing one, and the aircraft’s radio was still functional. One of the engines was found to work too.

However, they did not find any crew or their parachutes, indicating that they bailed out.

Around a year later the US military became involved and began a search for the remains of the missing crewmen. The search did not find their remains, but it discovered personal artifacts and markers strewn across the desert.

Lady Be Good Crash Site
US Air Force Photo. Aircraft parts were strewn by the Consolidated B-24D Lady Be Good as it skidded to a halt amid the otherwise emptiness of the desert. (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force)

In 1960, in a way similar to how the aircraft itself was found, a British oil exploration team found five of the crewmen’s remains, prompting another US search for the last four. The search found two bodies, while yet another British oil team found a third. The ninth airman has never been found.

Experts at the time estimated that with their supplies, the men could not have made it more than 30 miles in the brutal desert. Incredibly, the furthest man was found 109 miles from the aircraft.

The discovery of the bodies also returned many items used by the men during the trek, including a sobering diary by Lieutenant Robert Toner, which detailed the crew’s final days.


Lady Be Good
Top turret and center fuselage wreckage of the Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good.” (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force)

The artifacts found at the wreckage and on the remains of the crewmen have enabled experts to piece together what likely happened to Lady Be Good and its novice crew.

When returning home from Naples, the crew likely thought that the desert below them was the Mediterranean Sea, which is why they bailed out instead of attempting to land the aircraft. One of the crewmen died immediately on impact.

The rest managed to meet up and established that they were 100 miles from Soluch. In reality, they were 400 miles away.

They knew they had to head north, and all eight were able to travel an exceptional distance of 85 miles with just half a canteen of water. However at this point, five of the men were too weak to carry on, so the remaining three continued north for another 20 and 27 miles before also succumbing to the desert.

It is thought that if the men returned to their aircraft, they may have survived the ordeal thanks to its working radio and large stocks of supplies.

The men of Lady Be Good are a testament to the sheer strength of the human will to survive. They managed to walk a distance many thought impossible, through some of the harshest conditions anywhere on the planet.

Today, the eight airmen found in the desert rest in the US.

Here’s how the Most Successful Submarine, in US Navy History Accidentally Sunk Itself

H/T War History OnLine.

A sad end to such a valiant submarine and her crew.

The USS Tang is the US’ most successful submarine, sinking over 100,000 tons of enemy shipping over five combat patrols during WWII. Her experienced and highly skilled crew terrorized Japanese sailors, yet she was sunk by one of her own torpedoes, an unfitting end for such a prestigious vessel and crew.

At the time of her sinking, Tang had completed four war patrols and operated in the Taiwan Strait on her fifth. Just on this patrol alone she had already claimed a number of enemy vessels and damaged many more.

However, on the night of October 24, 1944, a stroke of terrible luck would end her distinguished career.

USS Tang

USS Tang
United States Navy Submarine USS Tang, SS 306, at sea, date not given. (Photo by Arkivi/Getty Images)

Tang was a Balao-class submarine constructed at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1943. As a Balao-class submarine, Tang was over 300 feet in length and displaced over 1,600 tons. She carried 24 torpedoes and with her diesel-electric propulsion was able to reach a maximum surface speed of 23 mph.

From her commissioning Tang was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Richard O’Kane, a man who had already served five war patrols on the USS Wahoo.

Although she reached service rather late, she would go onto to become the most successful US submarine of the war.

First war patrol

Her first war patrol began on 22 January 1944 when she left Pearl Harbor for the Caroline Islands and the Mariana Islands. Almost immediately she discovered a convoy of Japanese ships and attacked, sinking one transport before diving to avoid return fire. After a number of similar engagements, she finished her first war patrol with 6 kills, about 18,000 tons of shipping.

Second war patrol

Second Patrol of USS Tang
A U.S. Navy Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane from the battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55) off Truk with nine aviators on board, awaiting rescue by USS Tang (SS-306), 1 May 1944. The plane had landed inside Truk lagoon to recover downed airmen. Unable to take off with such a load, it then taxied out to Tang, which was serving as a lifeguard submarine during the 29 April-1 May carrier strikes on Truk. (Photo Credit: US Navy / Wikipedia / Public Domain)

Tang’s second patrol was a lot less eventful than her first, finishing without any kills. It began on 16 March and saw her spend time around the Palau Islands, Davao Gulf, and Truk. One of her notable actions on this patrol was when she rescued 22 airmen and took them to Hawaii.

Third war patrol

Any lack of action on her second war patrol was certainly made up for on her third, with Tang sinking 10 enemy vessels. Her third patrol began on 8 June 1944 and was mostly spent in the Yellow and East China seas. She soon ran into a large Japanese convoy comprised of two dozen vessels, most of which were armed escorts. She bravely mounted a rapid assault on the convoy, firing torpedoes at two separate targets, reporting two kills. However Japanese records would later show that Tang actually sank four vessels, with the other two likely crossing into the torpedoes’ paths accidentally.

She found another ship later in June and attacked before diving to avoid the enemy defenses. She quickly returned to the surface and fired another torpedo, which split the Japanese ship in half and claimed the lives of 3,200 troops. She finished this patrol with over 40,000 tons of shipping now on the seafloor.

Forth war patrol

Her fourth war patrol took place from 31 July to 3 September and went similarly to the third. She claimed another seven ships, one of which was destroyed by her deck gun.

The sinking of the USS Tang

USS Tang off Mare Island Navy Yard
The U.S. Navy submarine USS Tang (SS-306) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California (USA), 2 December 1943. (Photo Credit: US Navy / Wikipedia / Public Domain)

When Tang began her fifth war patrol she was among the most seasoned and highest-scoring submarines in the US Navy. She patrolled the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China, one of Japan’s most critical areas. She sank two cargo ships on the night of October 10 before continuing on her hunt. On October 23 she discovered a large group of Japanese ships, with O’Kane deciding to attack at night.

Fearlessly, Tang sprang up in the center of the convoy and began unloading torpedoes into the surrounding ships during a truly incredible and chaotic battle. The single submarine managed to damage and sink several ships while countering incoming attacks. Tang noticed two cargo ships bearing down on her for a ram, so she made evasive maneuvers which resulted in the Japanese ships colliding with each other instead.

She then finished them both off with torpedoes. With another three vessels approaching her at high speed she quickly retreated to open water, leaving a scene of destruction in her wake.

The next evening she attacked another large convoy and expelled the rest of her remaining torpedoes sinking more ships. In the early hours of October 25, she fired off her last torpedo, a Mark 18 electric torpedo.

However instead of flying straight, the torpedo curved round in a circle and headed back toward the USS Tang, who unsuccessfully attempted to evade it. Just 20 seconds after it launched, the torpedo struck Tang’s aft torpedo room, immediately killing half of the 87-strong crew. Water rushed into the stern of the submarine and she began to sink. During the sinking, a few men were able to escape.

The reason for the torpedo’s malfunction is unknown.

The submarine landed on the bottom of the ocean, which was just 55 meters below the surface. Survivors still inside the submarine, including O’Kane, made their way to the undamaged bow compartments. They destroyed any sensitive documents on board and began to escape. 13 attempted the escape, but only 8 reached the surface.

The next morning a Japanese frigate pulled the nine surviving men from the ocean. Once on the ship, they realized the survivors of their work from the previous night were also on board, and they were beaten nearly to death. The men were eventually relocated to the Ōfuna prisoner-of-war camp, where they were once again severely beaten. Just 5 men made it out of the war alive.

Over her five patrols, Tang sunk 33 enemy ships, making her the most successful US Navy submarine in history. She also earned four battle stars and two Presidential Unit Citations. O’Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in the submarine’s final battle.

In One Mission in October 1944, Two F6F Hellcats Shot Down a Record 15 Enemy Aircraft

H/T Smithsonian Magazine.

This was a major victory foe these two pilots.

U.S. Navy Pilots David Mc Campbell and Roy Rushing made history in a heroic air battle over the Leyte Gulf.


Two Grumman F6F Hellcats streaked across the sky above the Philippines. Below them, armadas of ships clashed in an epic battle to control the sea around the island of Luzon, where American and Australian ground forces engaged the Japanese in bitter combat.

It was October 24, 1944, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf—the largest naval engagement in modern history—had just begun. The Hellcat pilots, U.S. Navy Capt. David McCampbell and his wingman Ens. Roy Rushing, were looking for trouble up ahead and they found it—a squadron of 60 Japanese aircraft, including bombers escorted by Zeroes, the feared fighter of the Japanese Imperial Navy.

Despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, the American pilots never hesitated. Throttling their Hellcats’ powerful 2,000-horsepower engines, they ascended for the attack. From on high, they waded into the enemy on repeated sorties, each blasting away with six .50-caliber machine guns.

In One Mission in October 1944, Two F6F Hellcats Shot Down a Record 15 Enemy Aircraft
For their bravery that day, McCampbell (above: in an undated photo), who died in 1969, received the Medal of Honor while Rushing, who died in 1986, received the Navy Cross. Bettman, Getty Images

“We’d make an attack, keep our altitude advantage and speed, and go down again,” McCampbell recalled in a 1987 interview for the U.S. Naval Institute’s oral history project. “We repeated this over and over till we made about 20 coordinated attacks.”

The American pilots shot down a total of 15 planes—an achievement still unequalled in combat aviation. Both earned “ace in a day” status by downing five or more aircraft each on one mission. That day, McCampbell scored nine “kills”—seven Zeroes, also known as the Mitsubishi A6M Reisin, and two “Oscars,” the Nakajima Ki-43. None of the Japanese bombers reached their targets. With their formation so scattered, the enemy pilots had to abort their mission.

McCampbell and Rushing were aided in their accomplishments by the aircraft they flew, the Hellcat F6F. The rugged and versatile fighter plane became the bulwark of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps for carrier-based attacks in the Pacific theater during World War II. Nicknamed the “Zero Killer,” the American Hellcat, time and again, stayed one step ahead of Japan’s main fighter. 

“The Grumman Hellcat outperformed the Zero in nearly every major category,” says Thomas Paone, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “While it wasn’t the fastest aircraft, it was certainly faster than the Zero. The F6F could fly higher and deliver more firepower than the Japanese plane, making it the superior aircraft in the Pacific.”

In One Mission in October 1944, Two F6F Hellcats Shot Down a Record 15 Enemy Aircraft
The Smithsonian’s F6F Hellcat saw service in World War II as part of Fighter Squadron 15 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, though it never participated in combat. NASM

“It was a simple aircraft to build, a simple aircraft to fly and it was very rugged.”

The National Air and Space Museum includes a Grumman F6F Hellcat in its collections. Suspended from the ceiling at the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Chantilly, Virginia, this particular model saw service in World War II as part of Fighter Squadron 15 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, though it never participated in combat. It was donated to the Smithsonian by the U.S. Navy in 1948 and in 1983, the artifact underwent a full restoration.

Ironically, this storied fighter plane was pretty much an afterthought. The F6F was intended as an improved version of another a rugged American fighter, the F4F Wildcat that had certain limitations when facing the Zero. The Hellcat, however, was only developed after the F4U Corsair, the Wildcat’s replacement, encountered development difficulties.

Grumman built the heavily armored Hellcat based on the F4F design but with different landing gear, much larger wings, and a bigger engine and propeller—essentially a brand-new fighter. It launched into production quickly in 1943 with Grumman manufacturing 12,275 planes by the end of the war.

“It was a simple aircraft to build, a simple aircraft to fly and it was very rugged,” Paone says. “Just having newly trained pilots being able to fly it well was a major factor in its success.”

In One Mission in October 1944, Two F6F Hellcats Shot Down a Record 15 Enemy Aircraft
Pilots loved the Hellcat because of its outstanding performance against the Japanese Zero (above: also in the collections of the National Air and Space Museum) and other enemy aircraft. NASM

The Hellcat proved to be a dream fighter in nearly every way. Pilots loved it because of its outstanding performance against the Zero and other Japanese planes. Despite entering the war when it was halfway through, the Hellcat accounted for 75 percent of all aerial victories recorded by the Navy in the Pacific, according to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

The adaptable aircraft enabled McCampbell and Rushing to make history. For McCampbell, this was the second time he achieved that honor. The ace had previously shot down seven Japanese aircraft on June 19, 1944 during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in what became known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

As the Battle of Leyte Gulf got underway on October 24, 1944, McCampbell scrambled from the USS Essex. But he would soon learn his aircraft was severely handicapped.

As he and Rushing hurriedly made their way into the air, McCampbell noticed his main tank was only half full. He continued to shoot down enemy aircraft until he realized his Hellcat fuel tanks were nearly empty and he might not make it back to the aircraft carrier.

Fortunately, McCampbell did manage to land his Hellcat back on the Essex, but air crews could not restart the aircraft to move it—the tanks were bone dry. Worse, when they examined his machine guns, they found he had only six bullets left and all were jammed.

“But it worked out all right,” he said simply in the oral history project interview.

For their bravery that day, McCampbell, who died in 1969, received the Medal of Honor while Rushing, who died in 1986, got the Navy Cross. McCampbell, who remains the U.S. Navy’s all-time top fighter ace, also earned the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. With 34 aerial victories, he was the third highest scoring American ace, but the highest scoring U.S. fighter pilot to survive the war.

These 7 Cartoon Characters Served In The US Army

H/T War History OnLine.

Cartoons were often used during the Second World War not just as propaganda but as a morale booster for war-weary Americans. As such, many of our favorite cartoon characters are veterans of the United States military. Here are seven iconic cartoon characters that answered the call and “served” in the US Army.

1. Private Pluto

Private Pluto
“Private Pluto,” first released in April, 1943. (Photo Credit: Disney Fandom/ Public Domain)

In April 1943, Disney released the short propaganda film, Private Pluto. In this cartoon, Pluto is showcased as a soldier, serving as an Army private working to keep Army equipment safe. This short film marks the first appearance of the chipmunk characters, Chip and Dale, who pester Pluto.

Pluto first tries to follow marching orders but couldn’t quite get the flow of it. Then, Chip and Dale decide to use Army howitzers to crack open acorns, which of course, starts a feud between the characters.

Pluto also appeared as a sailor in the United States Navy in 1942 comic. In this comic, Pluto defeats Nazi saboteurs on a Navy cruiser.

2. Bugs Bunny and Japanese Imperial Forces

In the 1944 cartoon, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, Bugs Bunny finds himself on an island in the Pacific controlled by the Japanese Imperial Forces. Luckily for Bugs Bunny, he is able to defeat the Japanese Army and escape the island by hopping on a plane that looks similar to a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, and eventually locating other American forces on a battleship in the Atlantic. (Presumably this American battleship is the USS Iowa).

This film is now considered extremely controversial because of its racial serotyping. In fact, it has been banned from public viewing since the end of the Second World War due to its anti-Japanese sentiment.

3. Popeye the Sailor in the Navy

Popeye the Sailor montage
Stills from different Popeye the Sailor short films. (Photo Credit: Popeye Fandom/ Public Domain)

Because Popeye is a sailor, it is only natural that he would have “served” in the US Army in some capacity during the Second World War. Initially, Popeye the Sailor served as a US Coastguard until 1941 when his clothing changed to the white Navy uniform complete with a white sailor’s cap. Popeye would remain in Navy uniform until 1978, when he was put back into his original clothes, perhaps signifying that Popeye had retired from the Navy.

During the Second World War, Popeye cartoons and short films were regularly used to boost American morale. As a sailor, Popeye served as a boatswain’s mate, helped the Army with its tank program, and processed incoming draftees.

4. Donald Duck held multiple positions in the Military

Donald Duck 1943
Donald Duck worked in a Nazi factory in Der Fuehrer’s Face, 1943. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Donald Duck was another lovable Walt Disney character-turned-patriot during the Second World War. Walt Disney Studios made several short cartoons that depict Donald Duck as a civilian soldier. When he enlisted into the army, Donald Duck had high hopes of being a pilot, but ultimately became a paratrooper.

During the Second World War, Donald Duck was able to prove himself as a capable soldier. After Drill Seargent Pete put Donald Duck through tough training, Donald was given a command mission in the Pacific theater, in which he came through with flying colors.

In 1987, Donald Duck reenlisted in the United States Military, but this time with the Navy, but there is not many details on his time in the Navy.

5. Daffy Duck slipped behind enemy lines

Daffy the Commando
Scene from the 1943 short film, Daffy the Commando. (Photo Credit: CCCartoons via YouTube)

Bugs Bunny wasn’t the only member of the Looney Tunes gang to enlist in the army. Daffy Duck was dropped behind enemy lines to disrupt activity, destroyed Nazi infrastructure, and even assassinate enemy leaders.

One of the most famous short films starring Daffy Duck is the 1943 film, Daffy the Commando. In this film, Daffy is dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany, where he escapes capture by a (fictional) German commander.

6. Porky Pig pushed war bonds

Porky Pig meet John Doughboy
Still form the 1941 short film “Porky Pig- Meet John Doughboy.” (Photo Credit: Cartoon Channel via Youtube)

Despite Porky Pig being known for his shy and bashful mannerisms, he was the ultimate salesman for war bonds during the Second World War. After the Attacks on Pearl Harbour, a 1942 War Time Cartoon known as Any Bonds Today featured Looney Tune characters Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, and Elmer Fudd encouraged viewers to buy war bonds through a one minute song.

In another short cartoon, Porky Pig appears as a draftee who attempts to rally the American public to support wartime production of tanks and planes, while also promoting the draft.

7. Superman

Superman was already a household name by the time the United States entered the Second World War in 1941. Despite literally being Superman, he was never “technically” in the Army, but made sure to help out when he was needed.

In a 1942 comic titled “The Failure,” we learn why Clark Kent was denied from the Army. Despite being in perfect health, Clarke Kent can’t become a soldier because according to the recruiter and physician, he is as “blind as a bat.” It is then that Kent realized he accidentally had used his X-ray vision to look at the eye-chart in the next room over.

Despite not being in the army, Superman continues to help out when needed. Superman would do small jobs for the US Army, including helping deliver mail and take over kitchen duty, although he was involved in bigger missions as well, including steering bombs to targets. Perhaps the fact that Clarke Kent was involved in smaller missions was to show Americans that there was no need for Superman because the average American soldier could bring down the enemy.

Kaiten: Japan’s fully-manned kamikaze torpedos during WWII

H/T War History OnLine.

It was fortunate that these suicided weapons were too little too late.

The Japanese use of suicide tactics during WWII was based on a number of fundamental reasons. From a cultural standpoint, dying in combat was an honorable death that guaranteed you a heroic legacy. From a logistical standpoint, the Japanese military was well aware of the sheer overwhelming odds in their war against the US and knew traditional methods of fighting were not enough. Because of this, they invested heavily into suicide missions, building aircraft, weapons, and even manned torpedoes to help.


As a human remains with the attack until the end, suicide missions have the morbid but advantageous ability to be extremely accurate, especially compared to weapons delivery techniques during WWII. Dive bombing was a particularly effective means of attack, but it was fraught with danger and did not guarantee a hit. However, a kamikaze aircraft laden with explosives could be accurately flown into a target.

With the outcome of the war looking bleak, Japan authorized the construction of suicide crafts. These were organized into the Japanese Special Attack Units.

The methods of delivery for these units were kamikaze aircraftshinyo suicide boatsfukuryo suicide divers, and kaiten submarines.

Kaiten submarines

Kaiten Type 1 Submarine

A Kaiten, Type 1 on display at the Yūshūkan in October 2008 (Photo Credit: Nick-D / Wikipedia)

Six different types of these suicide craft were built after research began in early 1944. Only the Type 1 saw use, while the rest never passed the prototype stage.

In the early stages of kaiten development designers incorporated a means of escape for the pilot before the craft reached the target. Eventually this feature was removed, and the pilot was literally locked inside the machine. They were equipped with a self-destruct system in case they missed their target.

Type 1 was the only version to be widely used. This model was almost entirely based on the Type 93 torpedo, generally agreed to be the most advanced torpedo of the war. It incorporated the necessary modifications to fit the pilot and his controls. The pilot sat roughly in the center of the nearly 15-meter long craft and was provided with a periscope, an entry hatch, and steering controls.

Like the Type 93 torpedo, Type 1 used pure oxygen as an oxidizer for its engine. Contemporary torpedoes used normal compressed air as an oxidizer, which is only around 20% oxygen. Pure oxygen provides almost five times the amount of oxidizer for the same volume of compressed air, giving Type 93 an exceptional maximum range of 40,000 meters.

Using pure oxygen also has the benefit of reducing the bubble trails left by conventional torpedoes as the only exhaust gas is carbon dioxide, which is much more soluble in water.

The Type 1 suffered from water leaking into the pilot and engine compartment, but due to the nature of the weapon, solving these issues was a low priority.

It weighed 10 tons and carried a 1,550 kg warhead. It could reach a maximum speed of 30 knots and be able to dive to 80 meters. 300 Type 1s were built, 100 of which were used in anger.

Operating a kaiten

Kaiten Type 1 Launch

A Kaiten Type 1 being trial-launched from the light cruiser Kitakami (Photo Credit: Imperial Japanese Navy)

Kaiten could be launched either from a submarine or a surface vessel, although in practice only submarine launches were used. Piloting these machines was very complex.

Pilot training took place at the island of Ōzushima in the Inland Sea. The island was fully equipped for the testing of kaiten and the training of their pilots. Pilots were first trained in controlling fast boats using just a periscope and instruments. After this, they were placed in trainer kaiten armed with dummy warheads and worked through progressively harder tests. The training culminated in a submarine launch and nighttime missions.

Pilots had to be able to guide the kaiten using just a periscope and its instruments, all while accounting for the constantly decreasing weight as the oxidizer was used up. Submarines could carry kaiten on their decks, but because of the craft’s shallow dive depth, these submarines were at great risk while carrying them.

After identifying a target, the pilot would be briefed before climbing into the kaiten through its belly via a connecting tube between the submarine and the craft. He would detach the kaiten and accelerate towards the target. Once at a certain range, the kaiten would surface and the pilot would perform a visual check of the target to ensure he was on the right heading. The kaiten would slip back under the surface and make its way to the enemy vessel.

If the pilot missed and ran out of fuel, he would self-destruct the kaiten.

The advantages of human guidance throughout the craft’s trajectory proved to be of little use in practice, with kaitens causing minimal damage to the enemy. According to the US, just a few ships were sunk by kaiten, resulting in the loss of about 190 men. In return, Japan lost over 100 pilots and many hundreds more involved in the sinking of eight kaiten-carrying submarines.

The photo at the top of this page features the USS Mississinewa, according to Naval History and Heritage Command, “At 0547 on 20 November 1944, the fully laden 11,000-ton oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59) was anchored at Ulithi Atoll when a manned Kaiten suicide torpedo hit her, resulting in a massive explosion. A second huge explosion occurred seconds later when fumes in an aviation gasoline tank detonated.” It’s still unclear if the sinking was the result of a Japanese-manned kamikaze torpedo, as no remains of the device have been recovered.

100-year-old WWII British Airman Takes To The Skies In A 1940’s Era Biplane

H/T War History OnLine.

A great way to honor this veteran.

100-year-old British veteran Ron Holdsworth took a flight in a 1940s era biplane on Thursday for a flight over Bakersfield, California. The flight was organized by the non-profit organization Dream Flights.

Holdsworth’s flight was piloted by Molly Littlefield, departing from Bakersfield Jet Center at Meadows Field Airport, California. Holdsworth proved that age is just a number, giving Littlefield a thumbs up before she accelerated the aircraft down the runway and into the air. She was honored to be able to fly the former airman and hoped that the experience gave Holdsworth the time of his life.

She is no stranger to performing flights for combat veterans, having taken around 60 veterans on such experiences. “It’s been a privilege to provide these flights to members of the greatest generation,” Littlefield said.

She believes it’s crucial that we honor those who served in WWII, to discuss their stories, and to understand the difficulties and sacrifices they made, “Because pretty soon its gone.”

The aircraft used for the flight was a Boeing Stearman. This particular aircraft has been expertly restored into immaculate condition. The Stearman is a two-seater biplane that first flew in the 1930s. It saw widespread use during WWII as a trainer aircraft for the US Army Air Force. Over 10,000 were built in total. When the war ended thousands of Stearmans found themselves on the used market, becoming popular crop dusters and aerobatic aircraft.

In addition to his flight, Holdsworth was asked to sign the Stearman’s rudder, alongside the signatures of many veterans.

The non-profit organization that arranged the flight, Dream Flights, has completed many such flights before. The organization is “dedicated to honoring military veterans and seniors with the adventure of a lifetime.”

Flying with such extraordinary people means they are able to “collect, preserve and share those stories of how they survived through times of great strife to remind us of our shared humanity, our connection to each other and the value of listening.”

Dream Flights have carried out over 4,000 flights for seniors and veterans since 2011. Holdsworth’s flight was part of Operation September Freedom, which aims to honor as many WWII veterans as possible.

Ron Holdsworth

Although he loved the flight, Holdsworth is certainly no stranger to flying, completing 32 combat missions as a rear gunner in a bomber during WWII. The British-born veteran worked as an aircraft mechanic for three years before he became a bomber crewman in 1944.

“I left England in April ’41 and got back in January ’44,” Holdsworth said. “I spent time in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Kenya, Madagascar, Egypt.”

He flew in the Royal Air Force (RAF) on a Handley Page Halifax, a British four-engined heavy bomber. The Halifax was a critical component of Bomber Command during WWII, serving alongside Avro Lancaster.

Holdsworth flew six missions over France and a further 26 over Germany, some of which were particularly eventful. On Christmas Eve in 1944, Holdsworth participated in a daylight mission to drop bombs on industrial targets in the Ruhr, a region in Germany.

“We were going to an airfield in the industrial Ruhr,” he said. “I believe we were flying over Duisburg when we got hit with the flak.”

“Me being at the back, and the only one that faces the other way, I didn’t know what had happened,” he added.

The flak shook the aircraft and burst an oxygen canister. “I felt the initial shock,” Holdsworth said of the hit. “At the time I thought I was going to be a guest of Adolf’s.”

Fortunately, the aircraft was able to make it back to England.

California’s State Junior Vice Commander Tim Bryant was present for Holdsworth’s magnificent flight. He stressed the importance of ensuring young Americans understand and value history.

“I have two young girls,” he said. “It’s important that they know what our veterans have done, and what our allies have done.”

Holdsworth was asked if he had any words of advice for other veterans who have the opportunity to partake in one of the Dream Flights; “Go for it,” he said. “I’d tell them to go for it.”

8 Things You May Not Know About Erwin Rommel

H/T History com.

On the 70th anniversary of his death get the facts on the famed “Desert Fox.”

1. Rommel’s family lacked much of a military tradition.

Although Rommel would later become known for his bold battlefield tactics, his sister described him as a gentle and docile child. Developing an interest in mathematics and engineering, he co-built a full-size glider at age 14 and later disassembled and reassembled a motorcycle. Without good enough grades to attend university, he purportedly considered working at an airship factory near his hometown in southern Germany. But his father, the headmaster of a school, urged him to consider the military instead. After being rejected by the artillery and engineers, 18-year-old Rommel received acceptance to the infantry in 1910 as an officer cadet. He would remain in the military for the rest of his life—a far cry from his father and other male relatives, who left upon completing their mandatory service.

2. Rommel was injured multiple times in both world wars.

Taking part in dangerous raids and reconnaissance missions throughout World War I, his men supposedly joked, “Where Rommel is, there is the front.” But all of this fighting, including one 52-hour period in which his unit captured some 9,000 Italian prisoners, came with a price. In September 1914, for example, Rommel charged three French soldiers with a bayonet after running out of ammunition, only to be shot in the thigh so badly that a hole opened up as big as his fist. Three years later in Romania, he lost quite a bit of blood from a bullet to the arm, and he also continuously suffered from stomach ailments, fevers and exhaustion. More physical hardships came during World War II, from appendicitis to a face wound caused by a shell splinter. Then, in the wake of the D-Day invasion, Allied aircraft strafed his open-topped car as it rode through Normandy, France, causing it to somersault off the road. When the dust cleared, Rommel was unconscious, with multiple skull fractures and glass fragments in his face. In order to cover up the subsequent forced suicide of the popular general, Nazi officials told the public he had died as a result of those injuries. The truth didn’t come out until the conclusion of the conflict.

3. He was an early admirer of Hitler.

Following World War II, the Western Allies, now locked in an ideological struggle with the Soviet Union, made efforts to resuscitate Germany’s reputation. In so doing, they portrayed Rommel as a chivalrous combatant, pointing out, among other things, that he apparently never joined the Nazi Party. Yet his devotion to Hitler was incontrovertible. When Hitler took power, Rommel approved of his remilitarization plans, calling him the “unifier of the nation.” Later on, as the two men became better acquainted in the lead-up to the invasion of Poland, Rommel wrote to his wife that “the führer knows what is right for us.” He also attended Nazi indoctrination courses and signed his letters “Heil Hitler!” Hitler even gave him an autographed copy of “Mein Kampf.” Only later did Rommel grow disillusioned, believing that Germany must negotiate with the Allies rather than fight to the bitter end.

4. Rommel disobeyed some of Hitler’s direct orders.

After leading a tank division in the 1940 blitzkrieg of France, Rommel was transferred to North Africa in order to help the struggling Italians fight the British. Almost immediately he reversed the tide, pushing the British back hundreds of miles in a series of audacious assaults, for which he received his “Desert Fox” nickname, along with a promotion to field marshal. Finally, in October 1942, the numerically superior British halted his advance near El Alamein, Egypt. Running low on tanks, ammunition and fuel, Rommel prepared to retreat. But Hitler sent a letter telling him not to yield “even a yard of ground.” “As to your troops,” the führer added, “you can show them no other road than that to victory or death.” Despite his reverence for Hitler, Rommel disobeyed for fear his force would be completely annihilated. He also disregarded an order directing German generals to execute Allied commandos caught behind enemy lines. In the end, Rommel fled all the way to Tunisia, winning a tank battle there against the Americans—and losing one against the British—before returning to Europe in March 1943. Two months later, the Allies kicked the Germans out of North Africa altogether, setting the stage for their invasion of Italy.

5. Rommel ramped up coastal defenses prior to D-Day.

With an Allied invasion of Western Europe imminent, Rommel was assigned in late 1943 to inspect Germany’s defenses along some 1,600 miles of Atlantic coastline. Despite Nazi propaganda to the contrary, he found the area highly vulnerable. Under his supervision, the Nazis built fortifications, flooded coastal lowlands to make them impassable and placed massive amounts of barbed wire, mines and steel girders on beaches and offshore waters. Rommel also wanted tanks at the ready to prevent the Allies from establishing a bridgehead, but his superiors overruled him, preferring to keep most of them inland.

6. He probably never knew of the plot to kill Hitler.

As Germany’s military situation deteriorated, a group of senior officials attempted to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb, only to be thwarted at the last moment. Rommel was friends with some of the conspirators and certainly conversed with them about a post-Hitler future. Nonetheless, the full extent of his involvement in the plot remains unknown. (According to his widow, he opposed assassination but wanted Hitler to be arrested and brought to trial.) Whether innocent or not, his name came up during the subsequent Nazi dragnet, prompting Hitler to arrange for his death.

7. Rommel and Allied leaders didn’t hesitate to compliment each other.

During the height of Rommel’s success in North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sang his praises before the House of Commons. “We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us,” Churchill declared, “and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.” George Patton, Bernard Montgomery and other top Allied generals likewise expressed their respect for him, and Rommel responded in kind, saying of Patton that “we saw the most astonishing achievement in mobile warfare,” and that “Montgomery never made a serious strategic mistake.”

8. Rommel is still celebrated in Germany.

Unlike other prominent World War II-era Germans, Rommel has escaped mass vilification. In fact, his name still graces two military bases and several streets in Germany, and a monument in his hometown praises him as “chivalrous,” “brave” and a “victim of tyranny.” Yet detractors remain, including a German historian who recently called him a “deeply convinced Nazi” and “an anti-Semite” who used North African Jews as slave laborers. At the very least, most historians agree, Rommel likely cared more for his career than he did about Nazi atrocities.