A Day That Will Live In Infamy Plus 77 Years

Today marks the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is also marks the first time that a surviving member of the crew of the USS Arizona will not be in Hawaii to commemorate the event.

From the news reports:

No one who survived the bombing of the USS Arizona battleship will be in the audience.


“This is the very first year,” said Daniel Martinez, historian with the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.


Health issues and doctor’s orders prevented Lou Conter from coming.


“She said you cannot go. You better cancel out,” he said in telephone interview from his home in California.


Conter is 97. The handful of survivors of the battleship’s sinking are all in their 90s…


About 300 USS Arizona sailors survived Japan’s surprise attack.


Only five are alive: Conter, Don Stratton, Ken Potts, Lonnie Cook and Lauren Bruner.

The hatred and enmity between the two countries is in the past. Now you have survivors who fought on each side coming together in ceremonies like the Blacked Canteen ceremony which celebrates peace and reconciliation.

A Relatively Unknown Battle Of WWII

Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons discusses a rather unknown (in the greater scheme of things) battle between the Germans and the French Resistance during WWII. The battle for Vercors was the climatic battle between the Resistance and the Germans which took place in 1944. The battle took place in southeastern France in a region that is had a mix of mountains, high cliffs, and high plateau also known as the Prealps or foothills of the Alps.

Roughly a month after the battle, the American armored forces arrived in Grenoble and the Germans were gone. While the Allies provided some supplies to the Resistance, it really wasn’t enough to fight over a combined arms force of glider troops, armor, grenadiers, SS, and turncoat Ukranian anti-partisan forces.

Ian does for the Battle of Vercors what he is known for doing for rare and little known firearms. He explains it in detail and leaves you knowing more than you did before.

Memorial Day 2018

This is the day that we honor those who died in service of our great country. It started out, if historians are to be believed, with Southern women decorating the graves of Confederate veterans in Warrenton, Virginia in 1861. It spread through the South during the Civil War and to the North after the war. Decoration Day, or Memorial Day as we now call it, did not become an official holiday until 1966 when LBJ signed a proclamation establishing it.

I am in the midst of reading Ian Toll’s The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944. It is part of his trilogy on the war in the Pacific during WWII. I have just finished the part about the battle for Tarawa. The battle for the atoll was, to steal a line from Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish, and short. The Marines lost over 1,000 men killed in action over the space of about three days. Much of that was due to both geography and the fierce resistance of the well-fortified Japanese defenders who died almost to the man. At the battle’s end, there were only 17 Japanese left to become POWs.

What struck me as I read about the assault on the atoll was the bravery of the Marines. Many of them had to wade in to the beach through neck deep water because their landing craft grounded on the coral reef. They kept going forward exposing more and more of their bodies as men were being killed all around them. Going forward into the battle while those all around you are falling is the very definition of bravery. These are the men who I will be remembering on this Memorial Day.

If you want to see actual footage from the battle, the National Archives put together this short film from pictures and film shot by the combat photographers of the 2nd Marine Division.

It’s An Enigma…

An Enigma machine, that is.

And it can be yours, if the price is right. Or, more accurately, if you can afford to send $245,000 on this piece of WWII history.

M. S. Rau Antiques of New Orleans has an Enigma I three-rotor cipher machine for sale. From what I can tell, this was an early Wehrmacht Enigma cipher machine as they became more sophisticated as the war continued.

From Rau’s description of this Enigma I:

This highly important three-rotor Enigma I machine was used by the German Army during World War II. This machine, manufactured in Berlin, features three moving code rotors, or “walzen” (wheels), and a “steckerbrett,” or plug board. It is believed that the acquisition of an Enigma, and the subsequent deciphering of the German codes by the Allies, shortened the war in Europe by at least two years. A few of these vital intelligence tools survived the war, existing examples of Enigma machines are exceptionally rare, with almost all known models currently held in museums.

The Enigma machine was an advanced electro-mechanical cipher machine developed in Germany after World War I. The machine, called the “M” machine by the Germans, was used by all branches of the German military as their main device for secure wireless communications until the end of World War II. Several types of the Enigma machines were developed before and during World War II, each more complex and harder to code break than its predecessors. In addition to the complexity of the Enigma machine itself, its operating procedures became increasingly complex, as the German military wanted to make Enigma communications harder to code break.

The effort to crack the codes generated by an Enigma was an international affair. In 1929, the Poles intercepted an Enigma machine being shipped from Berlin and mistakenly not protected as diplomatic baggage. The Poles were able to determine the wiring of the rotors then in use by the German Army and used them to decrypt a large portion of German Army traffic for much of the 1930s.

In 1939, the German Army increased the complexity of their Enigmas. The Poles, realizing time was running out before the Germans invaded, decided in mid-1939 to share their work, and passed to the French and the British some of their ersatz ‘Enigmas,’ information. The information was shipped to France in diplomatic baggage; the British share went on to Bletchley Park, where the British secret service had installed its Code and Cipher School for the purpose of breaking the Germans’ message traffic. There, British mathematicians and cryptographers, chess players, bridge players, and crossword puzzle fans, among them Alan Turing, managed to conquer the problems presented by the many German Enigma variations and found means of cracking them.

A similar Enigma machine is on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans

The interior of the case is stamped Klappe schließen (“Close the door”) on the lower flap

German, Circa 1940

6 1/4″ high x 11″ wide x 13 5/16″ deep

Many of the existing Enigma machines are in museums. For example, the US National Cryptologic Museum has a four-rotor Kriegsmarine Enigma cipher machine that was used in the latter part of WWII.

The history of cryptology has always been a bit of an interest of mine. That is because my mother worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation during WWII as a cryptology technician. Part of her job involved searching suspected mail for microdots.  In a box somewhere, I have her training notes from the FBI on codes and code breaking.

US Sniper Rifles From WWI And WWII

Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons has recently published a series of videos on the sniper rifles used by the US Army and US Marine Corps in World Wars One and Two. One of the more interesting observations was that the Army had to start from scratch in WWII while the Marine Corps, who supposedly never throws anything away, pulled stuff out of storage.

From his WWI description:

The United States had two primary types of sniper rifles during World War One, although both were based on the M1903 Springfield rifle.


The most common optic used was the Warner & Swasey “Telescopic Musket Sight”, a rather clumsy prismatic optic mounted on the left side of the rifle, on a detachable rail. The model 1908 W&S offered 6 power magnification, which was reduced to 5.2x in the 1913 model in an effort to increase field of view. These optics were also used on the M1909 Benet-Mercie light machine gun.


The second type is the Winchester A5 scope, an excellent commercial scope available at the time. Although usually associated with the US Marine Corps, several hundred of these were also issued by the Army. The A5 was a much more tradition type of optic, mounted centrally above the bore and preferred by competitive marksmen.


The third rifle we are looking at in this video is a very interesting example of a competitive rifle from the pre-WWI period. It is a 1903 Springfield fitted with a commercial A5 scope and Mann bases. This is the sort of rifle that would have been used by the career military shooters for competition, and would likely have accompanied many such men overseas in the American Expeditionary Force. Woe to the German who found himself in the sights of such a man with a rifle like this!

From the bolt-action sniper rifles of WWII:

The primary sniper rifle used by the United States in World War II was the M1903A4 Springfield, a version of the exisiting 1903A3 with the iron sights removed and replaced with a Weaver 330C scope (adopted by the military as the M73B1). This was a low-power optic, but was centrally mounted on the rifle to avoid and of the windage issues caused by prismatic scopes.

The 1903A4 was the US’ first truly mass-produced sniper rifle, with more than 28,000 being manufactured during just two years of the war (1943-44). The rifle was taken out of production when the M1C sniper adaptation of the Garand was formally adopted, although production of the M1C would be delayed until the end of the war. The 1903A4 would remain in service after WWII, with later scopes being approved as replacements for the M73B1 (in this video, we will take a look at one equipped with an M84, the optic adopted for the later M1D).

The US Marine Corps, of course, had to be a bit different, and adopted their own sniper rifle variant in 1941, a 1903A1 fitted with an 8 power Unertl scope. These scopes were a tradeoff, being significantly more fragile than the M73B1, but also being much better for long range precision shooting. The USMC, taking much pride in their culture of marksmanship, was happy to make that trade, and the rifles served well throughout the war.

While the Army did adopt the M1C Garand semi-automatic rifle for sniping in 1944, according to Ian it never saw action during the war. It would make its debut in action during the Korean War.

Thanks to Ian for doing these histories of US sniping rifles as used during the world wars. If you want to help support the work he does, he has set up a Patreon account which can be found here.

Interesting Japanese Conversion Of A M1 Garand

Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons Blog always comes up with the most interesting old guns. In the video below, he discusses the Japanese Type 4 Garand.

Garand? Japanese Garand? Yep!

Partway through 1944, the Japanese Imperial Navy began a program to provide their infantry units with better firepower than was afforded by the bolt action Arisaka rifles. The initial experimentation was based on rechambering captured US M1 Garand rifles for the 7.7 Japanese cartridge, but an incompatibility of American en bloc clips with the Japanese cartridge hamstrung the project. In response, the M1 was reverse engineered, and the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal began to manufacture a copy of the rifle which would use a 10-round fixed magazine fed by two standard stripper clips.


This rifle was designated the Type 4 (2604/1944), although it is often referred to today as the Type 5. In total, parts for 200 rifles were manufactured, but only about 125 had been actually assembled into functional guns by the time the war ended.

“From Infamy To Victory”

This video which is part of the NRA’s Frontline Series does an excellent job in showing how the United States went from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the signing of the surrender in Tokyo Bay. It is hosted by Ollie North.

Particularly poignant is the interview with Jiro Yakimura. Mr. Yakimura was a Nisei. That is, Mr. Yakimura was a natural born US citizen whose parents had immigrated from Japan. When Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Mr. Yakimura was a college student in Hawaii and was a member of ROTC. In the days that followed, he and his fellow ROTC students were given a 1903 Springfield and sent to guard various spots on Oahu. Then, due to his Japanese ancestry, his services to his country were no longer needed. The story has a somewhat happy ending as Mr. Yakimura was finally able to serve his country as an officer in Army Intelligence in the Pacific.

A Day That Will Live In Infamy – 74th Anniversary

74 years ago today, on December 7th, 1941, fighters and bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Pacific Fleet in their home port of Pearl Harbor at 7:55am local time. IJN fighters and bombers also attacked US Army Air Force installations at Hickham, Wheeler, Bellows, and other air fields destroying most of the aircraft on the ground.

Most of the veterans on both sides have now passed away due to age. The National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, in fact, disbanded at the end of 2011 due to the advanced age of the remaining survivors.

One of the few live broadcasts of the attack was from KGU Radio in Honolulu.

A list of the ships of the Pacific Fleet in port on December 7th can be found here along with the damage suffered. As bad as the attack was, most of the battleships went on to fight again later in the war.

The battle for Wake Island began simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The IJN and the Japanese Imperial Army launched widespread attacks beginning December 8th on the British in Malaya , the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), and the Americans and Filipinos in the Philipines and Guam.

One immediate impact of the attack was that the industrial base of the United States shifted from a peacetime to a wartime footing. The propaganda poster below was meant to urge workers on.

A Cool Bit Of History Found In British Columbia

Like so many “secret weapons” late in World War II, the Japanese fire balloons or Fu-Go (Windship Weapon) were a failure. Of the 9,300 hydrogen balloons launched with incendiaries attached, about 300 were found to have landed or been shot down in North America. The Japanese hoped that these balloons would have reached the forests along the Pacific coast and started massive fires that would divert resources from the war in the Pacific Theater.

The bombs did kill six people, a pregnant woman and five kids, in southern Oregon who were out on a church camping trip. However, no massive fires were started and no resources diverted.

Until this month, the last time a balloon bomb was found was in the 1970s. A forestry worker in Lumby, British Columbia discovered one last Thursday.

On Thursday morning RCMP in Lumby were asked by one of Tolko’s employees to come to an area off Thunder Mountain Forest Road. The employee suspected that he had found an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb. The bomb is partly embedded in the ground within the bush in the area east of Lumby. Officers photographed the bomb and the military disposal unit from Esquimalt is heading to the area to deal with the unexploded bomb.

The RCMP said that they hoped to be able to salvage parts of the bomb such as the aluminum ring seen in the picture below for display at the local Lumby Museum.

This is a cool bit of history. I hope they succeed in preserving as much of it as possible. Looking at Lumby on the map, it is in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. This means this balloon bomb, after crossing the North Pacific, drifted over the coastal mountains and about two-thirds of BC to land in Lumby. That’s incredible.

Purl Harder!

One of the more unusual propaganda posters published after the attack on Pearl Harbor has to be the one below.

It is trying to encourage the women of America to do their part by knitting wool socks and sweaters for the fighting men. You will notice that the knitting needles form the “V for Victory”.

The poster above is part of the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.