I finished watching the Russian film The Dawns Here Are Quiet last night. It is offered as a four-part series on Amazon Prime Video. It is a remake of the Soviet era film from 1972 which was an Academy Award nominee. It is based upon the book of the same name by Boris Vasilyev.
The setting of the film is an anti-aircraft battery set behind the lines in Russian Karelia during WWII aka the Great Patriotic War. The unit is commanded by Sergeant Fedot Vaskov who was wounded during the Winter War. His original platoon of men is replaced due to fights caused by drinking and womanizing. Vaskov asks for “teetotalers” who aren’t going to womanize. Neither he nor the women in the village are very happy with the replacements. That is because Vaskov gets two squads of women soldiers.
Russia, May 1942. Well behind friendly lines a veteran sergeant commands a small outpost, consisting of two anti-aircraft guns. His men are a rowdy, undisciplined bunch and after one incident too many they are taken off his hands. To his surprise, the replacements are women. Soon after, the Germans send a team of crack saboteurs into the area to blow up a vital railway link. The only thing standing between them and completing their mission is the sergeant and his small inexperienced team.
The bulk of the film deals with how Vaskov and five selected women soldiers track and combat the Germans. Each of the women has her own backstory as shown with flashbacks. These range from being exiled to Siberia to being widowed by the war. The flashbacks, rather than being a distraction, just add to the whole story.
I stumbled across an Estonian made movie called 1944. It is the story of Estonians fighting Estonians during WW II and not necessarily by choice.
Estonia was annexed by the USSR in 1940 and over 50,000 Estonian men were conscripted into the Red Army. Come 1941 and Operation Barbarossa, the Germans have pushed out the Red Army and now conscripts about 70,000 Estonian men into their army. Only, because they are not German citizens, they are forced into the Waffen-SS and not the Wehrmacht.
It is now 1944 and the tide of the war has changed again. The Red Army is on the move through Estonia and that is where this story is set.
The movie has action mixed with sadness or pathos. It shows the humanity of the men in the trenches and on the battlefield while illustrating the corrupt evil of the political officers.
Embarking upon a great crusade is how Ike described what the soldiers, sailors, and airmen were about to do on June 5-6, 1944.
Ike released this statement at 9am British Double Summer Time which would make it 3am in New York and Washington, DC.
At noon, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced to the House of Commons that the invasion of Normandy was well underway and that the Allied Forces had captured Rome on June 4th.
I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines, and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled. The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 firstline aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.
By 6pm local time, all five invasion beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword – had beachheads established and troops were starting to move inland.
By 9pm local time, ground troops were starting to link up with paratroopers and glider troops from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and other smaller units. At the same time, the first reinforcements are starting to arrive from England.
The invasion of France was not without cost. The number of first day casualties is estimated at around 10,000. It has been a challenge to get a precise figure. Many units didn’t file their “morning reports” until days later. Fighting to get off the beach and move inland was of greater importance as one might imagine.
The number of killed in action had previously been put at about 2,500. However, research by the US National D-Day Historical Foundation has provided a much higher and more accurate total.
The number of people killed in the fighting is not known exactly. Accurate record keeping was very difficult under the circumstances. Books often give a figure of 2,500 Allied dead for D-Day. However, research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has uncovered a more accurate figure of 4,414 Allied personnel killed on D-Day. These include 2,501 from the USA, 1,449 British dead, 391 Canadians and 73 from other Allied countries. Total German losses on D-Day (not just deaths, but also wounded and prisoners of war) are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000. Over 100,000 Allied and German troops were killed during the whole of the Battle of Normandy, as well as around 20,000 French civilians, many as a result of Allied bombing.
I look back on D-Day 76 years after the fact and am still amazed how such an operation could not only be organized but succeed. There was no computers, there was no Internet, and operations research was done using slide rules. My graduate degree is in project management and this was the project of all projects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.