A Year-By-Year Look At The Air War: 1944

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Russian 588th women pilots

Eastern Front

Following up on their momentous victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, in September 1943 the Russians set their target on Ukraine. A victory in Ukraine would lead west, direct into the heart of Europe. The Russian forces assigned to this mission consisted of 2.6 million men, and 2,400 tanks, plus overwhelming air powerGerman Army Group South retreated past the Dnieper River and dug in there. Once the Russians crossed the Dnieper River, the Capital city, Kiev was now within striking distance. The operational plan called for a two-pronged encirclement of the city. As fall began to turn into winter, weather conditions began to change. The battle plan was changed to a single attack from the north. On November 6, the Russians entered Kiev, the Germans beat a hasty retreat. The Russians also captured several other nearby cities and achieved their goal of cutting the important rail link to German Army Group Center. The Germans attempted a counterattack but were only partially successful. They were able to re-establish the rail link between German Army Group Center and South. On December 3, the Russians pushed the Germans back to the original Polish border line.

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Ivan Kozhedub, Russian Air Force Top Allied Ace

Beginning in 1944, it was now clear that Germany was in desperate trouble on all fronts in the East and West. On the Eastern Front, the terrible siege of Leningrad was now lifted, after a horrific 900-day siege that cost the lives of millions, and the Russian were now poised from Leningrad in the north, to Crimea in the South to drive the Germans out of the motherland. The coming battles would be known as the “3rd phase” of the war against Germany. In 1944 several key operations were planned to defeat German Army Group’s North, Center, and South. German Army Group North retreated from the Leningrad region to the border of Estonia, in the Baltic States. Russian forces would now attack and force the Germans out of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and East Prussia. The resulting battles would sever lines between Army Group North and Army Group Centre , and Army Group North was trapped in the Baltic seashore area in Latvia.

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Seige of Leningrad

By the Spring thaw of 1944, Russian Forces had reached the eastern border of Poland, a monumental achievement in the war. In a world where war was raging for several years with millions of lives lost, several incidents showed the sheer brutality of Germany and Russia. Poland would be the epicenter of some of the worst. In 1943 the Germans discovered mass graves in the Katyn Forest, near Smolensk. Buried were 20,000 Polish officers who were executed with shots to the head. When the Russians invaded Poland from the East in 1939, they took thousands of prisoners of war. Some were transported to labor camps, others were formed into fighting regiments, and sadly, some executed. It was Polish law that all college graduates were required to serve in the military. The Germans accused the Russians of this atrocity, the Russian denied the accusations. Both the Germans and the Russians would single out the intelligentsia of occupied territories for elimination. It was later learned that the Russians had indeed massacred these men in April/May 1940. In July 1944, the Russians liberated the Polish city, Lublin. Near Lublin they discovered what would be the first of many German Concentration Camps, Majdanek. With the discovery of Majdanek, the world would see Nazi genocide on a level unimaginable, a place of death and misery. The Allies would learn that Majdensk killed and burned the corpses of 2,000 Jewish men, women, and children per day.

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Majdanek Concentration Camp

The Germans were not certain where the Russian summer offensive would occur. To coincide with the western Allies invasion of France in June, the Russians launched Operation Bagration, they assumed their operation would prevent the Germans from reinforcing forces in France. The main objective of the Russians was the liberation of the city of Minsk, which they did. The Germans suffered a devasting loss of 400,000 men killed, 158,000 captured, and the loss of vast amounts of arms and supplies. This loss effectively ended the operations of German Army Group Center. For the Russians, the real hammer blow would happen further south with their operation to liberate Crimea and threaten Romania. Romanian and German forces blocked an initial invasion in April 1944 in Northern Romania. The Russians regrouped and attacked again in August, this time they succeeded in capturing Târgu Frumos and Iași. The Russians then began their operations to liberate Crimea, they attacked from the North and East, eventually driving the German and Romanian forces to Romania. This operation put Romania’s most prized resources, the Ploiești oil fields in the direct line of fire. Ploiești had long been a target of the Allies in the east and west for years.

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MIG Designers Artem I. Mikoyan and Mikhail I. Gurevich

The Russians soon overwhelmed the Axis Forces, forcing Romanian Monarch, King Michael I to sue for peace with Russia in September 1944. King Michael I had summarily dismissed pro-Nazi Prime Minister Ion Antonescu. Antonescu was arrested by the Russians, and later executed in 1946. The Russians pursued the fleeing Germans west across the Carpathians Mountains into Hungary. The Hungarians later capitulated and declared war on Germany. The same details played out when Russian forces turned south and invaded Bulgaria. Without firing a shot, the Russians intimidated the Germans into withdrawing their forces from Greece. The Germans beat a hasty retreat to Austria and Czechoslovakia.

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MIG-1 Fighter Plane

When the Russians invaded the Baltic States, the thought was that they would next move on Finland. The Finns had been a thorn in their side. However, the Russians turned their attention to eastern Europe. Once this conquest was done, the Russians turned to Finland. This Russian force was far different than they had engaged in the past The Finns sued for peace in September and were required to pay reparations. In addition, the Finns were forced to give up territory, in particular, the mineral rich area of Petsamo, in northern Finland.

One of the most tragic events of World War II occurred in Poland in 1944. Russian forces had fought their way to the Vistula River in August. They were within artillery range of the capital city, Warsaw. Buoyed by the Russians presence, the Polish Home Army choose this time for a revolt against the Germans. The Polish struck and were rapidly gaining ground on the Germans, they were expecting the Russians to assist. Rather than assist, Russian leader, Stalin did nothing. Stalin was planning on what government would control Poland after the war, he was not in favor of the Polish government in exile. The Germans reinforced their forces with a crack, ruthless Panzer division that defeated the Polish patriots. Thousands were killed, and Hitler ordered Warsaw destroyed. The Russians did not enter Warsaw until October. The Russians continued to push the Germans out of Poland. In January 1945, the Russians had reached the German border. They were 50 miles from Berlin.

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Captured Polish Jews Warsaw Uprising

Western Front

By the beginning of 1944 the tide had turned in the favor of the Allies in the Battle of the Atlantic due to sheer numbers. In 1943, 248 German U-Boats were lost, that number would grow in 1944. The advantage the Germans had in U-Boat facilities in the Bay of Biscayne (coast of France), and along the Norwegian cost had proven difficult for the Allies to destroy. In 1944, the Allies renewed their offense on these facilities with heavier bombs. In particular, British Bomber Command, with their “Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs." Some of the largest of the war. Designed by British munitions designer, Barnes Wallis, the maker of the “ bouncing Bomb” used to destroy an important dam in Germany. Typical bombs of the day were in the range of 500 to 2,000 lbs., the Tallboy was an astounding 12,000 lbs., and 21 feet long. The Tallboy didn’t require a direct hit on a target, it was designed to penetrate deep underground, cause a massive explosion, which would create shockwaves that would topple a target like an earthquake. The later “Grand Slam” bomb was an even more impressive 22,000 lbs.

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British Engineer Barnes Wallis

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British Grand Slam bomb

The Allies used Tallboys to destroy the German Battleship Tirpitz , which the Germans were hiding in a Norwegian Fjord. Famed Lancaster bomber squadron 617 was given the task of destroying the Battleship Tirpitz, to prevent it from entering the North Sea and Atlantic to attack Allied convoys. squadron 617 first struck in September, causing severe damage. They returned again in November and hit the Tirpitz with several Tallboys, capsizing the ship. With this weapon, attacks were conducted on U-Boat bunkers in France and Norway, and facilities in Germany.

The convoy traffic in the Atlantic had increased expeditiously in 1944. The British Isles were bursting at the seams with men and material. It was apparent that something big was about to occur. Each side knew that an invasion of France was imminent. The commanders of German forces were Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The Germans had constructed a defensive line known as the “Atlantic Wall”, a 2,000 miles collection of fortresses, gun emplacements, tank traps, and obstacles. The series of walls stretched from the tip of Norway to Spain and was manned by 300,000 German and Axis soldiers. Mindful of the Dieppe disaster two years earlier, this time the Allies would attack with an overwhelming force designed to begin the march to Berlin. Adept at the art of deception, the Allies kept the German guessing as to the location of the invasion with elaborate tricks. The Germans deduced that the shortest distance for a channel invasion would be the Pas de Calais. However, the Allies had selected Normandy. A key element of the invasion began months earlier when the Allies were bombing Germany around the clock by RAF Bomber Command, and the U.S. 8th in Britain and the 15th out of Italy. Throughout 1943 this had been a costly endeavor for U.S. because they lacked a fighter with the range to escort bombers to Germany and back to bases in England.

The British suggested that the U.S. fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang replace the Allison engine with the outstanding Rolls Royce Merlin engine that powered many of the best RAF planes. The performance was immediate and dramatic. The Allies now had a fighter to take on the best the Luftwaffe had, and more important, the range to escort bombers on long range missions. They were so effective in this mission that had virtually eliminated German flyers over France. In addition, they had destroyed the Luftwaffe over German skies and on the ground.

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North American P-51 Mustang

In a speech before Congress, President Roosevelt said December 7, 1941, would a be a date of infamy. Now, June 6, 1944, would be a day of deliverance. The largest armada ever assembled crossed the English Channel, as the Allies stormed ashore on Normandy beaches, at five locations. U.S. forces landed at Omaha and Utah beaches, the British/Canadian forces at Gold, Juno, Sword along with paratroopers, and glider-borne troops landing behind enemy line to secure key targets to secure bridges and prevent a counterattack. The overall Commander of Operation Overlord and Allied forces was General Dwight Eisenhower. British General Bernard Montgomery was the commander of ground forces. The American forces were led by General Omar Bradley, the British by General Sir Myles Dempsey. Early on, Omaha beach came under tremendous fire, despite heavy naval bombardment. Utah was slightly less defended; U.S. forces quickly secured the beach. In the British sector, progress was slightly better; by midday four of the five forces began moving inland. The Sword beach progress was a little less than desired. At Utah Beach, difficult terrain behind the beach slowed progress. The U.S. 82nd Airborne seized the town of Ste. Mere Eglise.

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Lockheed P-38 Lightning with invasion stripes

At Omaha Beach, the Germans held the high ground overlooking the landing beach. Naval gunfire moved as close as possible to silence the German guns. In addition, more assault troops were sent in in. By midday U.S. forces began moving inland. By the end of the first day the Allies had landed 150,000 troops. This would prove to be an unstoppable force, that would only multiply. In the British sector, the goal was to capture the city of Caen on the first day. The German resistance was firm, and the British were falling short of their goal. In the west, the Americans targeted Cherbourg for its harbor facilities. The Allies planned ahead and built an ingenious artificial harbor, Mulberry. The harbors were manufactured in sections and towed across the Channel. By June 17 they began to unload men and essential equipment. A severe storm ravaged the channel for 3 consecutive days. The American harbor was nearly destroyed, the British harbor also suffered damage. With the damage to the harbors, the capture by the Americans of Cherbourg took on a greater emphasis. The Americans entered the outskirts on June 22nd. They entered the city on the 26th. On their way out of the city, the Germans systematically destroyed much of the harbor facilities.

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Mullberry Harbor on D-Day

The Allies’ next goal was to move south into Bocage country. The attack would prove to be difficult in the vast networks of small fields surrounded by tall banks of hedgerows with sunken roads. The Germans utilized the terrain to dramatically slow down the Allies, loses in men and equipment began to rise. By mid-July, more than a million men were now in France. The Allies had to find a way to break out of this dilemma. They were mired in a box, relatively 50 miles wide and 20 miles deep. General Bradley conceived a plan, Operation Cobra, to call in air power to massively bomb the Germans, then breakout. Bad weather delayed the operation for several days, when they did launch from England, thick clouds forced another cancelation. Sadly, some air units did not get the message to abort. In the bombing, some Allied units were bombed in error. General Bradley was furious with the results, but nevertheless authorized another bombing the next day. Again, some bombs fell behind Allied lines, causing casualties. However, this time the German were hit with a massive bombing that threw them back on their heels. The Germans had 40,000 men defending Brest, determined to fight to the end. By the time the fighting ended, the Allies needed to utilize almost every weapon in their arsenal. The exhausted and nearly depleted German forces surrendered in September.

The fortunes of war took a drastic turn when on July 20, 1944 high ranking German officers attempted to assassinate Hitler by planting a bomb at his East Prussia, headquarters. Miraculously, Hitler survived the attack. In Hitler retribution, famous General Erwin Rommel was swept up in the plot, he would later commit suicide. Additionally, other officers would pay with their lives also.

The Germans attempted Operation Lüttich, an attempt to thwart the Allied drive. However, through intelligence intercepts the Allies discovered the plan, and were ready. The Allies defeated the attack. This loss for the Germans put their defense of Caen in trouble. The British was facing ever-more stubborn resistance at Caen, now the Germans were forced to withdraw part of their forces to confront Patton. The Germans fearing Patton, withdrew defense forces from Caen. This move gave British/Canadian forces an opportunity to push the German forces south. Now, caught in a pinch the Germans found their forces nearly surrounded at the Falaise –Chambois area. While some German forces were able to escape, 50,000 were trapped in what was called the Falaise Pocket. The Allies called in a massive raid that devasted the Germans, killing thousands. Captured Germans were in a serious state of shock after the bombing.

The Allies were prepared to rush through the gap provided by the bombing. They had just the General to lead the attack. General George Patton, who had been on ice for disciplinary reasons for conduct in Sicily the previous year. But Eisenhower knew the value of his great battlefield general. Patton was given command of the 3rd Army, his mission was to push south to Avranches, then conduct operations in Brittany and in the east. The operation in the west centered on taking port cities on the west coast, the Allies were in desperate need of port to unload vast amounts of supplies to support their forces. The attack on the city of Brest began in August to capture an intact port. The fighting for Brest soon turned into some of the most vicious fighting of the campaign. By the time the fighting ended, the Allies captured the city and port of Brest, but Germans destroyed the port facilities. Brest caused the Allies to rethink the plan of capturing other ports, knowing the Germans would indeed destroy the facilities. The decision was made to lay siege to the other facilities and move the bulk of their attack on the east under Patton.

Patton’s forces charged across Central France, liberating numerous towns along the way. Shortly after the Falaise victory, one of the most momentous events of the war occurred in mid-August. The Liberation of the city of light, Paris. After 4 years of German occupation, the people of Paris were now free again. Hitler had ordered Paris destroyed, but the German officer in command knew the tide of the war had turned, and in a sense, he knew the significance of this majestic city, he refused to carry out Hitler’s orders. And if this wasn’t enough for the beleaguered Germans, the Allies landed in Southern France in once controlled Vichi. The Allies, which included Free French Forces, along with Resistance forces were in the vanguard. They captured Marseille and Toulon. The forces would eventually link up with Patton’s forces driving east.

After the liberation of Paris, Patton was now poised to cross the Seine River and drive directly to the German border. The further and faster Patton proceeded, issues with supplying his forces with what they needed began to be a problem. One asset the Allies had in their arsenal was a massive number of trucks produced in America. What they didn’t have was enough drivers needed to form an enhanced transport unit to deliver supplies to the front. A call went out for volunteers, one group who answered the call was African American soldiers, many, who assigned menial duties in the segregated forces. Eventually they would make up 70% of the drivers. Work often on an exhausting and dangerous scale to keep Allied force supplied. They would be known as the Red Ball Express for the red patch placed on each vehicle.

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African American Red Ball Express Drivers

Early in September, Patton received dreadful news. The much-needed fuel for his tanks was to be diverted to another sector. In essence, halting his drive to the German border. General Eisenhower approved a plan submitted by General Montgomery of his plan to move into Belgium in the north and take the port of Antwerp, the largest port on the continent. From there, Montgomery intended to enter Germany.

In the hopes of turning his war fortunes, Hitler turned to his scientists for new and deadly weapons. The first weapon to appear was the V-1 flying bomb (eltungswaffen) developed by Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger. The V-1 was driven by a pulse jet engine that could reach a speed up to 350 mph. The V-1 was unmanned, essentially a missile that was designed to cut the engine at a prescribed time, then, plunge to the ground, with devasting effect. The bombs were launched via a steam-driven ramp, and it was armed with a deadly 1800 lb. warhead. The first launch from France occurred on June 13, when 13 were launched. Nine failed to reach England, however, 4 did a week after the D-Day landings. All told, 10,000 V-1’s were fired at England, killing and injuring thousands, and in general, striking terror. This new threat made the march east in France all that more imperative to destroy the launch sites. The Germans would add several futuristic weapons in the future.

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German V-! Flying Bomb

With the liberation of France and Belgium there was a feeling in the air that the Allies would soon be at the front door of Germany. All that was needed was a swift kick and the whole structure would fall. General Montgomery planned a mission to do such a thing. His plan was Attack north through the Netherlands, secure 3 important bridges, and then cross the Rhine into northern Germany. The plan was named Market Garden. The plan involved 3 airborne divisions and one motorized corp. The airborne division would secure the bridges, 30 Corp would relieve the airborne troops and drive into Germany. While they were able to liberate much of the Netherlands, the main mission failed. They did capture the first two bridges but failed to capture the 3rd at Arnhem. Intelligence failed to detect the correct number of forces in the area, the airborne landings occurred over 3 days instead of one, due to a lack of aircraft and bad weather. And finally, the airborne troops at Arnhem were dropped too far from the bridge. The British and Polish lost 11,000 killed and injured, 6,450 captured, the U.S. lost nearly 4,000 dead, wounded, or missing. The Germans lost more than 7,500.

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Operation Market Garden British paratroopers

Despite the setback of Market Garden, the Allies still felt the Germans were still close to collapse. The Russians were closing in from the east and south through the Balkans. Allied air power was simply pulverizing German cities into mounds of unrecognizable rubble. Still, Hitler was not finished. A secret plan had been in the works to attack the Allies at their weakest spot at a location where Hitler had launched the war in the Ardennes Forrest in Belgium. The Germans secretly moved 20 divisions to this lightly guarded area. In addition to the troops, Hitler relied on a band of bad weather to ground the Allies air forces. The goal was to divide the Allied forces and capture the port of Antwerp in Belgium. The sudden thunderous attack began on December 16, 1944. It was imperative for the Germans to strike quickly because they had limited resources and were not capable of a sustained effort. The Germans took the Allies by surprise, quickly rolling through Americans forces killing thousands, and taking thousands more prisoner. The Americans were in disarray, the Germans deployed English speaking soldiers in U.S. uniforms that caused even more confusion.

As the Allies searched for a solution, one General stepped forward with a plan to relieve the beleaguered forces in Bastogne, General George Patton who said he could disengage in a battle in the Saars and drive north and reach Bastogne in time to save U.S. forces from destruction or capture. Patton estimated he could do the tasks in 3 days if he was fortunate. However, the weather and road conditions were horrendous, not to mention the Germans put up stiff resistance along the way. By this time German forces had surrounded Bastogne and were demanding a surrender of American forces. The 101st Airborne Division was deployed to Bastonge to slow down the German attack. In addition to the 101st the 969th and 333rd African American Field Artillery Units provided cover fire. Both artillery units were known for their deadly accuracy. When asked to surrender, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe gave a defiant reply that has gone down in history when he replied “Nuts”. True to his word Patton’s forces were able to break the siege at Bastogne on December 26. His action denied the Germans their intent on taking Antwerp. When the weather conditions began to clear, Allied air power began driving the Germans back to the German border.

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African Americn 333rd Artillery Batalion

The failure of the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge officially sealed Germany’s fate in World War II. The year 1944 would conclude with the Germans under attack on their East and West borders, it would only be a matter of time when they would fall.

Mediterranean

When the Allies invaded mainland Italy in September 1943, it was done with a multinational force that consisted of troops from the U.S., England, Algerians, Indians, French, Moroccans, Poles, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Japanese Americans. When Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini was disposed and later imprisoned, a commando raid authorized by Hitler, freed Mussolini from imprisonment and made him head of a puppet government in the north. Winston Churchill had advocated for invading Italy, labeling it the “soft underbelly” of Europe. The Americans and Russians did not share Churchill’s sentiment. The Americans and Russians were in favor of an invasion of France that would be the quickest way to end the war. While the Allies were winning, Churchill felt they were not strong enough to take on the Germans in France. In the debate, Churchill prevailed.

After several perilous days of fighting U.S. General Marc Clark’s 5th Army’s toehold on Salerno on the west coast was held in large part by naval gunfire and 15th Air Force bombings. On September 16 Montgomery’s eighth Army met up with U. S. forces near Salerno. By prior agreement with the Italians, 3,600 men of the British 1st Paratroopers Division landed unopposed at the port of Taranto on the Italian heel. The Germans knew the fight for Salerno was lost, they proceeded to withdraw in an orderly fashion line of defense. The Germans worked feverishly to erect three lines of defense. The Barbara Line; fortifications along the Volturno River, some twenty-five miles north of Naples. The Bernhard or Reinhard Line through Mignano, fifty miles north of Naples, and the third, the Gustav Line, anchored on Monte Cassino and the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers.

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President Roosevelt and General Mark W Clark

After Salerno, the Allies reinforced their forces and began the attack on Naples. Again, they were met with stiff resistance from the Germans. On one seventeen miles stretch, the Germans destroyed 25 bridges forcing the Allies to slow their progress. Despite the German hurdles, the Allies entered Naples on October 1. In the Allied plan to go beyond Naples and into Rome, they first had to breach the Gustav Line at the city of Cassino in January 1944. One of the most controversial events of the war was what to do about the historic Benedictine Monastery that sat atop Monastery Hill. The Allies believed the Germans were using the Monastery for observation purposes, which the Germans denied. The Allies made the decision to bomb and destroy the Monastery prior to assaulting the hill. The massive air raid turned the Monastery into a huge pile of rubble; however, this action gave the Germans greater protection in defending the hill. The first attack involved French and U.S. troops; they were repulsed by elite German paratroopers. It would take the Allies three additional tries before the Germans were driven out by Polish soldiers in May.

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Monte Cassino Benedictine Monastery

In an effort to cut German communications from Rome, the Allies landed at Anzio, south of Rome. The Germans were retreating from the Gustav line to Northern Italy. At first, the Anzio landing was met with little resistance, but the Germans soon reinforced their forces. It would take several months of heavy fighting before the Allies were able to push the Germans back and breakout. Overall Allied commander of forces in Italy, British Genera l Sir Harold Alexander ordered U.S. Fifth Army commander Mark Clark to pursue the retreating German 10th Army. Clark disobeyed Alexander, and instead, marched north to liberate the capital city, Rome. Clark and his forces marched into Rome on June 4, 1944, to a thunderous welcome. This was a significant accomplishment because the Italian capital was the first Axis capital to fall. Much to Clark’s chagrin he could only bathe in the glory a short time because of the momentous Allied landing in Normandy, France on June 6.

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General Sir Harold Alexander

After liberating Rome, the mission was to continue pushing the Germans northward. But the mission was proving more difficult than anticipated. Winston Churchill had labeled Italy the soft underbelly, however, after tough fighting General Mark Clark called Italy the “tough old gut.” The next strong German defense line was the Gothic Line to get to the city of Florence. In August, the Allies approached the Gothic Line, but once again, tough fighting prevented an immediate breakthrough. After several months of hard fighting several events out of the control of Allied commanders began to play a major role. Troops were withdrawn for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France along the coast which successfully drove the Germans out of Vichi held France, other divisions were sent to Northeast France in preparation for Operation Market Garden. One unexpected event occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean in Greece. The Russians were steamrolling south through the Balkans at a rapid pace. The Germans feared that their forces occupying Greece were in danger of being cutoff. The German forces retreated north to Czechoslovakia and Austria. In the after-war plans, Greece was designated to be in the British sphere of influence. British troops were rushed to Greece. The British forces arrived in the nick of time; Greece soon became embroiled in a civil war. The opposing factions were the Communists and the Royalist. In the end, the Communists were forced to surrender.

In the fighting in Italy, the Germans were accustomed to the multi-national and racial Allied forces. It must have come as a shock when they first encountered Allied troops, in particular, Japanese American soldiers. This must have been confusing since Japan was a staunch member of the Axis Powers. When the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian Islands had a large Japanese population, in addition, a significant population along the West Coast. Fear and distrust led the U.S. government to force Japanese Americans, many of them citizens, to sell their businesses and land for pennies on the dollar. The government considered Japanese Americans 4C, (enemy aliens) which prevented them from serving. The majority were forced into relocation camps, far from their homes. Early in 1942, the War Department ordered all Japanese in the military removed from service. On Hawaii, all officers in the Territorial Guard were removed, however 1,300 men were allowed to form two infantry units. The discharged officers petitioned for reinstatement, and were allowed to form the Varsity Victory Volunteers, a service unit. Still distrustful of the Niesi, the Army moved them to the mainland in June 1942. Eventually they were sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin and formed into the 100th Infantry Battalion (the One Puka Puka). After eight months of training the 100th was moved to Camp Shelby in Louisiana. It was here that the military discovered they had excellent soldiers on their hands.

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Varsity Victory Volunteers

Pleased with results of the 100th, the Army put out a call for volunteers to form another unit. The Army asked for 1,500 volunteers on the mainland, and 3,000 in Hawaii. More than 10,000 stepped forward in Hawaii. This unit would be designated the 442nd Combat Team. The motto for the 442nd became “Go For Broke” which served them well. Like their African American counterparts, they would fight the dual enemies of a foreign advisory and bigotry at home. The units were ready for deployment in June 1944. A small group was deployed in the Pacific where they served in intelligence units. The vast majority were deployed in Europe. The 100th landed in Salerno in September 1944. Their first action was the rugged fight for Monte Casino that was a four-month battle. The 100th proved to be a hard fighting unit, they suffered high casualties. They earned the name the “Purple Heart Battalion” because of the number of awards earned Of the original 1,300 men of the 100th only 580 were left after the liberation of Rome. When the 442nd deployed they were merged with the 100th.

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442nd Reviewed by President Truman

In September the 442nd was re-deployed to Northeastern France. It was here that the unit participated in the battle that made them legends when they fought to relieve a cutoff Texas National Guard unit that was facing destruction. In the fierce fight the 442nd suffered 800 casualties but accomplished their mission. Their action earned them their second Presidential Unit Citation. After substantial loses the 442nd was deployed to guard the border between France and Italy. The 442nd would conclude their service in March 1945 when they joined forces with the African American 92nd division and broke through the Gothic line in the Italian Mountains which earned them their 3rd Presidential Unit Citation. All-in-all the 442nd received 8 Unit Citations, 21 Medal of Honor recipients, in 2011 they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. However, it was a German Officer who fought against them that paid the highest compliment when he said, “when fighting most Allied troops you could hear them coming a mile away. You couldn’t hear the Japanese Americans until they were on top of you.” This is something the Marines in the Pacific knew all too well.

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Japanes American Internment Camp Baseball Team

The War In The Far East

At the dawn of 1944, prospects looked favorable for the Allies in the Southwest and Central Pacific, and the Battle for Burma. Operation Cartwheel was progressing rapidly with its goals taking all of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. MacArthur on the left flank and Admiral Halsey on the right flank were putting the squeeze on the Japanese forces. For MacArthur, the remaining obstacle was the taking key locations in Dutch New Guinea, that would lead the way to his return to the Philippines. Just as Halsey had done with the isolation of Rabul, MacArthur did the same with Wewak, cutting off and isolating thousands of Japanese troops. For the Japanese, the loss of the Admiralty Islands had a domino effect with their prized possession of Truk.

In closing in on his objectives, MacArthur invaded Hollandia on April 22, 1944. The attack was an unmitigated success for the Allies and ended on June 6. Following Hollandia, Wakde, Biak, Morotai, Noemfoor, and Sansapor would soon follow, pushing the Japanese to the western side of New Guinea, dooming them to isolation for the remainder of the war. In mid-June, as MacArthur looked north, he was only 300 nautical miles from the southernmost islands of the Philippines, and his climatic return. Carrier fighter aircraft sweeps and land-based bombers from Morotai were now attacking targets in the Southern Philippines. Prior to the invasion of the Philippines, there was some concern about the Palau Islands on MacArthur’s right flank that had an airfield. In early September, U.S. Marines and later U.S. soldiers assaulted the island of Peleliu. Military leaders had predicted that the operation would take less than a week. Instead, the battle took more than two months of the most vicious fighting in Marine Corps history, the Japanese were willing, and did, fight to the death.

The riveting account of Eugene Sledge of Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Regiment of the First Marine Division, who fought on the 6-mile-long island illustrated the personal sacrifice of him and his comrades The rugged terrain and repressive heat were an eye opener for many of the young Marines. The fight against the tenacious Japanese and the brutal reality of all-out combat scared these young men for the remainder of their lives; those that were fortunate enough to live through it. Sledge recalls the tragic death of their beloved Captain Andrew A. Haldane's death during a fire fight, who the men referred to as Ack Ack. Sledge recalled, “… "OK, you guys, OK, you guys," [Sergeant] Johnny Marmet,( A Marines Marine) obviously flustered. A couple of men exchanged quizzical glances. "The skipper is dead. Ack Ack has been killed," Johnny finally blurted out.… Sledge would later fight in one of the last battles of the war on Okinawa, which was worse than Peleliu. On Peleliu, nearly the entire garrison of 11,000 Japanese were killed. On Okinawa the Japanese lost over 100,000 killed.

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Captain Andrew A. (Ack Ack) Haldane

The Central Pacific

The next step on the push in the Central Pacific were the Marshall Islands, a collection of 38 atolls. Fresh off the taking of Tarawa and its costly battle, Admiral Nimitz was determined to learn difficult lessons. The Tarawa Operation lacked the necessary communications and reconnaissance needed to be improved in order for pre-invasion bombardment to be better. Along with close air and naval support post landing. The most glaring mistake was having adequate armored LVTs that could traverse low waters and travel Inland from the beach. In late 1943, Japanese Admiral Mineichi Koga assumed the Americans would strike the Marshall Islands early in 1944. Admiral Koga gave instructions to defend the outer islands. The Americans intercepted his communications and planned to attack Majuro, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok instead. On January 31, 1944, U.S. forces invade the lightly held island of Majuro and defeated the Japanese in one day of fighting.

The same day U.S. forces landed on Roi-Namur, a group of islands in the northern part of the atoll, In this case the pre-invasion bombardment was extremely effective. Next to fall, was Kwajalein at the southern end. A much larger Japanese force put up stiff resistance but were overwhelmed in 7 days of fighting. The Japanese force of 8,000 was nearly wiped out. The U.S. suffered 2,000 casualties. The last battle of the Marshall Islands was the fight for Eniwetok which began on February 17. After vicious fighting, Eniwetok was taken on February 23rd. The Japanese lost nearly 4,000 killed, the U.S. suffered 1,100 casualties. As a result of their victories in the Marshall Islands the Allies built naval bases, fortifications, and airfields on the islands to prepare for an assault on the Marianas. For the Japanese, they were forced to what would be their last critical line of defense. Now, the Philippines and the Marianas Island were in grave danger.

Battle of The Philippine Sea

In June 1944, the U.S. assembled one of the mightiest naval forces in world history. This was all the more remarkable since this was the same time another massive naval force assaulted the Normandy beaches on D-Day halfway around the world. The targets were the Marianas Islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Each island had a significant importance. Saipan would be the first Japanese territory to be directly assaulted and taken. Guam was U.S. territory taken in the early days of the war, now the U.S. has returned in force to take it back. Tinian would serve as a launching point for bomber raid on the Japanese Home Islands.

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Admiral Raymond Spruence, Commander 5th Fleet

The U.S. Fifth Fleet under admiral Spruance consisted of Task Force 58 commanded Admiral Marc Mitscher, had an amazing 15 carriers, 7 battleships, 11 cruisers, 86 destroyers and over 900 planes. The land forces were commanded by Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner, consisted of 56 attack transports, 84 landing craft and over 127,000 troops. The battle for Saipan commenced on June 15 when the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the Army’s 27th Division led by Lieutenant General Holland Smith faced off against the Japanese 43rd Division led by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saitō. The Saipan invasion force landed 8,000 Marines on June 15. The Japanese put up stiff resistance, however, the tough fighting Marines were able to establish a significant beach head. That night, a determined Japanese counterattack was repulsed by the Marines, with the Japanese losing a significant number of casualties. The next day elements of the Army’s 27th Division landed and proceeded to take Aslito Airfield. The airfield was later renamed for Isely Field after United States Navy Commander Robert H. Isely who was killed on June 13, 1944, while strafing the base. By June 20th Republic P-47 Thunderbolts fighters were flying missions on Saipan. By July 6 the Battle for Saipan was no longer in doubt. Down to their last option, the Japanese launched the largest Banzai charge in the Pacific War. Over 4,000 able-bodied men, along injured soldiers and civilians were a part of the attack. The Japanese overran several Army and Marine units, but in the end nearly all the Japanese were killed, while the Americans suffered 1,600 casualties. Saipan was designated secured on July 9th.

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Admiral Marc Mitscher Task Force 58

Much of their success was due in part to a secret communication weapon the Japanese could not decipher. The U.S. able to communicate via radio traffic because they had a cadre of men communicating in their native language. The Native American Code Talkers. In the Spring of 1942 29 Navajo men reported to Camp Pendleton to begin the process of designing a code based off the Navajo language. The Code Talkers from the Navajo and other tribes were utilized throughout the Pacific. Their ability to rapidly communicate vital information and reconnaissance was a key to success. Even when the Japanese captured a Native American who was not a Code Talker, if they were not trained in the code, they could not help the Japanese.

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Navajo Code Talkers

The new commander of the IJN Combined Fleet, Admiral Soemu Toyoda instructed Admiral Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa and his force to confront the American forces assaulting the Marianas. The main contingent of Ozawa’s forces were his 3 fleet carriers, and 6 light carriers, and an air contingent of 500 aircraft. Ozawa could also count on land bases aircraft stationed on various islands. On the 19th, a Japanese Zero launched from Guam spotted U.S. Task Force 58 and alerted his command of their location then proceeded to attack, he was shot down. The Japanese began launching additional aircraft from Guam, which were detected on radar. The U.S. scrambled 30 of their Hellcat fighters. During the ensuing battle over Guam, the U.S. shot down over 30 Japanese planes with the loss of one Hellcat. Now the battle was on.

At 10:00 am U.S. radar detected inbound aircraft from Ozawa’s carriers at a distance of 150 miles. Task Force 58 began launching fighters to meet the incoming threat, and as a precautionary measure ordered its bombers aloft to avoid being caught in an attack. Again, squadrons of Hellcat engaged the Japanese 70 miles away from the fleet. In the ensuing battle 25 Japanese aircraft were shot down. The 43 Japanese aircraft that survived were met by another squadron of Hellcats, and another 16 Japanese planes were shot down. Only one ship, the battleship South Dakota, was slightly damaged. The Japanese launched their second wave of 107 aircraft, the Hellcats engaged them 60 miles from the fleet, 70 Japanese aircraft were shot down. When the remaining Japanese aircraft reached the fleet another 27 were shot down by a withering blanket of anti-aircraft fire. The 3rd Japanese wave was significantly smaller, 47 aircraft. Again, Hellcats met them enroute to the fleet, and 7 were shot down. The remaining 40 Japanese aircraft chose not to engage and returned to their carriers. The 4th Japanese raid were given the wrong coordinates for U.S. fleet, they split into two groups and chose to refuel on Guam and Rota. A group of 18 Japanese aircraft flying towards Rota stumbled upon a group of U.S. ships. In the ensuing engagement 9 Japanese planes were shot down. Nine Japanese bombers evaded the Hellcats and attacked the U.S. Carriers Wasp and Bunker Hill, 8 were shot down. A group of 49 Japanese aircraft attempted to make it to Guam, they were intercepted by Hellcats, 30 Japanese were shot down and the remainder were badly damaged.

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Lieutenant Junior Grade Alexander Vraciu,USNR; fighting squadron 16

In a short period of time the Japanese lost over 350 aircraft in a single day. The lopsided U.S. victory would later be termed “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” all but wiped out Japanese Naval Aviation in one day. Throughout the day the U.S. searched doggedly for the Japanese Fleet. During the second wave launch of Japanese aircraft the USS submarine, Albacore sighted Ozawa’s forces. The Albacore maneuvered for an attack and fired torpedoes at the carrier Taiho. The Taiho was the largest and newest carrier in the Japanese fleet and Ozawa's flagship. She was the first Japanese carrier with an armored flight deck. Four of the Albacore’s torpedoes veered off target, in an incredible feat, a Japanese pilot, Sakio Komatsu, taking off from the Taiho spotted the wake of a torpedo, he crashed his plane into the torpedo to save his ship. The final torpedo struck home, damaging two aviation fuel tanks. Another submarine, the USS Cavalla single out the Japanese carrier Shōkaku and fired 6 torpedos. Three struck the carrier causing catastrophic destruction. The Shōkaku exploded in several violent explosions and sank with a loss of 1,263 men. The Shōkaku was one of the carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor at the start of the war. At first it appeared the damage to the carrier Taiho was slight. However, aviation fumes spread throughout the hangar. At 14:30 hours, sparks from an electric generator ignited several catastrophic explosions. Soon thereafter, the Taiho sank forcing Admiral Ozawa to abandon ship. Of the 2,150 ship’s company, 1,625 were lost.

At dawn on the 20th Task 58 began feverishly searching for the Japanese Fleet. At 15:40 a sighting was verified, and orders were issued to launch an attack. The pilots were aware that they would launch at their maximum range, and in all likelihood return to their carriers in the dark, a task that pilots had very little training in. The U.S. forces spotted two oilers approximately 30 miles from the Japanese Fleet. The U.S. pilots attacked and badly damaged two, a 3rd oiler escaped. When the Japanese fleet came into view, they first attack the carrier Hiyō which was hit by bombs and torpedoes, and later sank. The carriers Zuikaku, Junyō and Chiyoda were sighted and attacked, however, each survived. After the battle, the U.S. pilots were now concerned with finding their carriers in the darkening skies. With a looming disaster on his hands, Admiral Mitscher made the courageous decision to turn on the lights of the fleet to aid the pilots. Despite these efforts, over 80 planes were forced to ditch in the ocean.

Needless to say, the loss of the Marianas Islands was a significant blow to the Japanese. This disaster resulted in the removal of General Tojo from his leadership position. The loss of nearly all of their naval air arm now put their remaining naval forces in great jeopardy. Now, the U.S. was only 1,300 miles from the Japanese Home Islands, and they began preparing bases from which their brand-new bomber, the Boeing B-29 with its range of over 3,000 miles range would soon lead the way.

Battle of Leyte Gulf

The way was now clear for General Douglas MacArthur to achieve his goal of returning to his beloved Philippine Islands, in force. The original date and location of November and the island of Mindanao was changed when the Allies discovered Japanese defense plans. The Japanese were prepared for several different scenarios; An attack on the island of Formosa (modern day Taiwan) the Philippines, and the Home Islands. In early October, Admiral Halsey’s forces attacked Luzon, Formosa, and Okinawa. The Japanese interpreted the heavy attack on Formosa as a prelude to an invasion. The Japanese activated their Sho-2 plan, designed to defend Formosa. When Japanese air forces responded to Admiral Halsey attack, the Japanese suffered badly. When U.S. forces landed in the Philippines the Japanese activated Sho-1 plan, the defense of the Philippines. The Japanese anticipated the Allies would attack at Mindanao; the Allies then chose Leyte instead. On October 20, 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army aided by massive naval and air bombardment stormed ashore. Within 3 days the U.S. landed 200,000 troops and a month’s supply of everything their forces required. The number of U.S forces that landed were twice the number of Japanese defending the entirety of the Philippines. After the disastrous recent loss of the Marianas, the potential loss of the Philippines would signal the end for the Japanese. The Japanese had suffered terrible losses of its carrier naval air force; however, they still possessed a formidable Battleship, Cruiser and Destroyer force.

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General Douglas MacArthur Returns To The Philippines

For the Japanese to successfully defend the Philippines required their navy to destroy the U.S. forces at Leyte. A plan was designed to draw a good portion of the Halsey’s fleet away from Leyte. The plan called for a naval force to approach Leyte from 3 different locations. The Japanese Northern Force led by Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, which consisted of 1 fleet carrier, and 3 light carriers, 2 battleships and supporting vessels. Because of aircraft losses in the Marianas, Ozawa had less than 100 aircraft available for combat. The Japanese Center Force led by Takeo Kurita consisted of 7 battleships, 13 Cruisers, and 19 Destroyers sailed through the Subuyan Sea, then through the San Bernardino Straits to Leyte Gulf. The Japanese Southern Force commanded by Admirals Shima and Nishimura consisted of 2 battleships, 3 Cruisers, and 21 Destroyers. The Southern Force sailed through Sulu Sea into the Surigao Straits.

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Admiral Jesse Oldendorf

Later in the day, Admiral Halsey confirmed Admiral Ozawa’s force moving in from the north. While Halsey was concerned about the Japanese Center and Northern forces, Admiral Kincaid’s 7th fleet engaged the Japanese Southern Force. Admiral Kincaid’s 7th Fleet were part of General Douglas MacArthur’s command. The main contingent of the 7th Fleet was its battleship bombardment group; they were 6 battleships raised from the disaster at Pearl Harbor, commanded by Admiral Jesse Oldendorf. On the night of October 25th Admirals Shima and Nishimura attempted to push their way through the Surigao Strait. Admiral Oldendorf arranged his forces in 3 levels: PT Boats, Destroyers, and at the mouth of the Surigao Straits a line of battleships in a T formation. The PT Boats forced the Japanese to maneuver, thus, upsetting their plan. The U.S. Destroyers moved in with vicious torpedo attacks that blew up one Destroyer and damaged three others, and damaged one battleship. When the Japanese approached Oldendorf’s battleships, he opened fire at 12,000 yards. In a span of 18 minutes, Oldendorf fired 300 14- and 16-inch rounds, along with 4,000 rounds of 6- and 8-inch shells. This battle would be the last battleship on battleship of the war. How ironic it was that the left for dead U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor soundly defeated the Japanese. At daybreak U.S. carrier planes finished off the Japanese.

Clearly the Japanese were in a desperate situation – it was at this time they introduced a terrifying weapon. Throughout the war, the Japanese had shown a willingness to deliberately sacrifice their lives in battle. A newly formed air group, Kamikaze (suicide planes) deliberately dived their aircraft in the escort carrier Santee, killing 16 sailors and damaging several planes. The Santee was later torpedoed by a submarine, however, through the effort of the crew they saved the ship. That attacked was followed by a Kamikaze attack on the Suwannee, killing 71 sailors. The Suwannee was attacked again the next day and killing 36 more sailors and inflicting more damage and loss of aircraft.

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Japanese Kamikaze Pilots

Everything appeared to be going the Americans way in the battle. Admiral Halsey assumed the Japanese Center Force had retreated, so he turned his attention to the Japanese Northern Force. The U.S. plan was to form a task force (Task Force 34) to leave behind to guard the San Bernardino Straits in case the Japanese returned. However, in the fog of war this did not happen, and would lead to disastrous results for the Americans. Once the Japanese were convinced that Halsey had departed with the entire fleet, Admiral Center Force returned to the San Bernardino Straits under the cover of darkness to cloak his movement. Admiral Oldendorf’s forces were busy chasing the remnants of the Japanese forces, this meant that the only force defending the Leyte landing were Admiral Kincaid’s small escort carrier groups Taffy, 1-2-3 and nothing bigger than a Destroyer. When Kincaid radioed Halsey to confirm that Task Force 34 fast battleships were guarding his flank, the shocking response was “negative “they were with him.

A search plane on the morning of the 25th confirmed that Kurita’s mighty force was 20 miles away from the Leyte Gulf Beachhead and closing fast. The first U.S. forces to fall under Kurita’s guns was Taffy-3 led by Admiral Clifton “Ziggy” Sprague and his 6 escort carriers, 3 Destroyers and 4 Destroyer Escorts. Kurita’s forces began firing away at 18 miles. Admiral Sprauge would later say, “I didn’t think we would last 15 minutes, but I thought we might as well give them all we got before we go down.” The carrier deckmen loaded any available ammunition on planes and launched them. Eventually the escort carriers launched 450 aircraft. The Japanese had no appreciable air cover, and this was disconcerting to Kurita. The Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts formed to attack when Sprague ordered “Small Boys Attack” as they charged headlong into the Japanese with one goal in mind – protecting the fleet. Lieutenant Commander Ernst Evans of the Destroyer Johnston led the charge attacking the Japanese dodging 16- and 18-inch shells. The Johnston torpedoed the heavy cruiser Kumano, forcing it out of action. The U.S. Destroyers laid a smoke screen to protect the carriers and began their torpedo runs. Despite their valiant and heroic efforts, the big guns of the Japanese began to take its toll on the Americans. The Destroyers Johnston, Hoel and the Destroyer Escort Samuel B. Roberts were sunk. Brushing aside the Destroyers, the Japanese began to zero in on the slower escort carriers.

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Lieutenant Commander Ernst Evans

Seventh Fleet Admiral Kincaid, continued to send Admiral Halsey desperate messages about the battle at Leyte. Halsey faced a terrible dilemma; he had assumed Kurita’s Center Force had retreated. If he dispatched forces to return, they would not arrive in time. Halsey’s headache grew worse when he received a message from his commander, Admiral Nimitz. The Admiral had been monitoring the messages between Kincaid and Halsey. Admiral Nimitz messaged Halsey – “where is Task 34?” In order to confuse the enemy intercepting messages, additional information would appear at the end of the transmission – Nimitz’s message added, “The World Wants To Know.” When Halsey read this part, he became terribly upset, it would take him over an hour to calm down. When the following events with Kurita’s Force occurred, the U.S. force averted a total disaster. The USS Gambier Bay was the first escort carrier to go down. Several others were able to escape. It was at this time that Kurita began to seriously wonder what he was up against. To be attacked by this many aircraft must mean they are up against a much larger force. With the loss of 3 Cruisers and the damage to other ships Kurita retreated from the battle to preserve his force.

Admiral Halsey dutifully detached a portion of his force to return to Leyte Gulf, then proceeded to pursue Ozawa’s decoy carrier force. Although Ozawa force had 1 large Fleet carrier (Zuikaku, the last remaining carrier that attacked Pearl Harbor) and 3 lighter carriers, they only had 108 available aircraft. Two battleships, 3 light cruisers and 9 battleships accompanied Ozawa’s carriers. At dawn on October 25, Ozawa launched 75 aircraft to attack Halsey forces, nearly every Japanese aircraft were shot down in the battle. Halsey’s forces counter-attacked, and immediately blew past Ozawa’s fighter air cap and went to work on Ozawa’s carriers. sinking Zuikaku, the light carriers Chitose and Zuihō, and the destroyer Akizuki, with a tremendous loss of Japanese lives. The light carrier Chiyoda and the cruiser Tama were unable to escape from the attack and were severely crippled. The battle concluded with Halsey forces located the light carrier Chiyoda and dispatched it to the bottom, and the cruiser Tama was crippled.

With the threat of Imperial Japanese Navy thwarted, MacArthur’s ground troops began to overwhelm the Japanese on Leyte. With the help of one of the finest guerrilla forces of the war, Filipino resistance fighters that had continuously been a thorn in the side of Japanese since the beginning of the war. By mid-November MacArthur had destroyed the majority of Japanese forces in hard fighting on Leyte. With the capture of Leyte, MacArthur must have felt assured of his return to liberate Manila, Bataan, and Corregidor were now within his grasp as 1944 was drawing to a close.

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Philipino Guerillas And U.S Troops

China-Burma-India

It was not lost on the Japanese fighting in 1944, in the China, Burma, India theater that the fortunes of war were drastically changing for the Japanese. Their forces in the Southwest and Central Pacific had suffered stinging defeats. Now, they were losing ground on the Asian mainland. When the Japanese launched operation Operation U-Go, in the plan to cross into India from the Burma border, they hoped to be successful because if they were not, they would be forced to retreat during the coming monsoon season. When the Allies first stopped the Japanese attacks, then began driving them back into Burma, the Japanese were now in serious trouble. In tough fighting, the British Commonwealth troops from England, India and West Africa pushed the Japanese back into the jungle, over the mountains and onto the Burma Plains. Even in the midst of the monsoon rains that made it difficult for both sides.

The Allies conceived a three-part Burma plan. Plan X involved the American led Northern Area Combat Command linking up with the Chinese Expeditionary Force attacking from Yunnan province under General Wei Lihuang. The main purpose was to complete the Ledo Road, the land bridge from India to China. Plan Y involved the British 14th Army crossing the Chindwin River into Central Burma with the aim of taking Mandalay and linking up the Northern Forces and the Chinese. Plan Z involved a plan to use amphibious and airborne attack on Rangoon, the capital and principal port of Burma.

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Nationalist Chinese General Wei Lihuang

In the campaign in the south, the Indian XV force attacked Akyab Island, at the end of the Mayu Peninsula, a location that was attacked previously, that failed on several locations. The goal was to take the airfield and use it as a base of support for the Central Operations. The 82nd West African Division cleared the valley of the Kalapanzin River then crossed a mountain range into the Kaladan River valley, while the 81st West African Division advanced down the Kaladan River. The African divisions met on Myohaung near the mouth of the Kaladan River, cutting the supply lines of the Japanese troops in the Mayu Peninsula. The Japanese evacuated Akyab Island at the end of 1944.

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82nd West African Division

With the loss of the Burma Road in 1942, the Allies began looking for an alternative over-the-road route to supply China with badly needed supplies. A path was selected running from the railhead at Ledo, Assam, in India, to Mong-Yu road junction where it met the Burma Road. The project was led by U.S. General Joseph (Vinegar Joe) Stillwell, the commander of U.S. forces. Construction on the 1,079-mile road began in December 1942. After two years of hacking their way through dense jungle, towering mountains, and fighting the Japanese, multiracial construction battalions completed the road in late 1944. The construction battalions worked 24 hours per day on the critical project. Since late 42, the supply to China was done by airlifting cargo over the towering Himalayas Mountains, famously known as the hump. There was some doubt if the Ledo Road could match the tonnage of the airlift. More, and better transport aircraft was now available, and the recent capture of the airfield at Shingbwiyang negated the need for flights over the dangerous Himalayas.

A large portion of the Allied success, up to now, in CBI (China, Burma, India) can be attributed to gaining air superiority over the Japanese. The Allies now had an array of very good fighters and bombers. The prowess of the RAF Third Tactical Air Force, the U.S. 10th, and 14th air forces, and the IAF (Indian Air Force) in their ground support, escort duties and air-transport, tipped the balance in favor of the Allies in out flanking and driving back the Japanese. In mid-1944, the Allies unveiled, arguably, the best 4 engine heavy bomber of the war, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

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Squadron Ldr Arjan Sing (3rd from left) and Indian Pilots

The Boeing B-29 bomber was the most expensive U.S. armament program of the war, even more expensive than the Atomic Bomb that would come later. While the Allied forces in Europe had several excellent four-engine bombers, the Boeing B-17, Consolidated B-24, and Avrol Lancaster, none had the range necessary in the vast Pacific to reach the Japanese home islands. Based on the need, the B-29 was approved quickly without the necessary testing time. It would take some time to work through problems that occurred in production and once in the field. The B-29 that emerged was a step ahead of all other aircraft; pressurization, remote control firing system, height of over 30,000 feet, range of 4,000 miles, and a speed of 350 mph.

By 1944 there were high expectations for the B-29 in the Pacific. The last time the Allies were able to bomb the Japanese home islands was the Doolittle Raid in 1942. Operation Matterhorn was the plan to base the new B-29’s on bases in India and China to conduct raids in China, Southeast Asia, and Japan. The XX Bomber Command with its single wing of four groups were deployed first. Thousands of laborers worked feverishly near Kharagpur, India and Chengtu, China to build four bases in each country. The XX Bomber Command was ready for combat action, they were led by Major General Kenneth B. Wolfe. The U.S. Joint Chiefs prepared a list of targets and missions for their new bomber. They decided that the first targets would be coke and steel facilities in Manchuria and Kyūshū, Japan. The B-29’s would need to do double duty in flying bombs and supplies over the Himalayas to prepare for air operations from Chinese bases. The first combat mission occurred on June 5, when the B-29’s targeted the Japanese railroad facilities in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Major General Kenneth B. Wolfe, XX Bomber Command

Seventy-seven of the ninety-eight bombers on the mission hit their targets. Buoyed by the results, the next mission would be more ambitious; the imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata on Kyūshū. The results on the 3,000-mile round trip mission were disappointing for several reasons. In order to avoid Japanese fighters and anti-aircraft fire required flying at extreme heights, the bombers experienced the phenomena of the jet stream over Japan, which made accurate bombing extremely difficult. Despite the results, the attack on Kyūshū sent a clear message to the Japanese that their home land would now be under constant attack until war’s end. The demanding Army Air leader, Henry Hap Arnold was impatient with the results of his super-expensive weapon. He replaced General Wolfe with a rising star from the European theater, General Curtis LeMay. Even with the installation of LeMay, very little changed results wise. Maintenance issues continued to haunt the new bomber, in particular, engine problems. And the laborious task of supplying Chinese bases over the Himalayas proved to be inefficient in the long run. And even with the great range of the B-29’s, southern Japan was still out of range.

Recent victories in the Southwest and Central Pacific gave General Arnold better options. The taking of islands in the Marianas, the campaign in the Philippines was well underway meant the B-29 operations in China could now move to Tinian and Guam, giving them a direct line to Japan. Production of the B-29 was in full production and would soon reach an output of 100 B-29’s per month. The year 1944 would conclude with the conclusion of the war no longer in doubt. It was just a matter of time.

Evolution Of World War 2 Fighter Aircraft

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