WWII

Mort Sheffloe Redux Part 2

In this redux of a prior episode, combat veteran Mort Sheffloe continues discussing his WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Mort talks about Operation Cobra and being shot by a German sniper near Brest.

Mort Sheffloe Redux

Mark revisits his interviews with WWII veteran, Mort Sheffloe, done on location in France. Mort discusses his WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Some of the interviews took place while walking the sands and in cafés at Utah and Omaha Beaches.

Seven at Santa Cruz

Mark’s guest is Ted Edwards, whose new book, Seven at Santa Cruz, is a riveting biography of WWII pilot, Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa. It is an up-close look at the battles of Santa Cruz and Coral Sea and how Vejtasa became a naval hero fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. He flew from aircraft carriers Yorktown and Enterprise and became the only dive-bomber pilot to be awarded Navy crosses for both bombing and aerial combat.

For more information or to buy this book click here.

 

July History: WWII and Civil War

Some cursory but analytical looks at a few key July historical events. We discuss WWII, including the Einsatzgruppen SS mission in the Soviet Union, as well as the Civil War battle of First Manassas (Bull Run). We also take a look on the lighter side—how Louisiana took an innovation from the 1930’s and raised it to a higher level.

(Above photo: P.G.T. Beauregard, formerly at City Park, New Orleans)

Beauregard, a Louisianan whose first language was French, graduated second in his West Point class of 1838 and served with distinction in the Mexican War.  He briefly was commandant at West Point when the war began, but left the post for his home state.  Beauregard was in charge at Fort Sumter when the first shots were fired. As said above, he commanded the forces at First Manassas where the smoke and haze of the battlefield made it difficult to distinguish the Confederate National Flag from the Stars and Stripes.  Afterwards, when home in New Orleans, he designed the battle flag, using the St. Andrew’s Cross on a field of red with thirteen stars.  This became what is generally thought of as the “Confederate Flag,” and first flew over troops at Shiloh in April 1862.  Here Beauregard served and took the reins as senior field officer after Albert Sidney Johnston died shortly after a mortal wound.  After the war, Beauregard returned home and worked for civil rights and reconciliation.  After the war he wrote, “With regard to the suffrage of the freedmen, no matter how objectionable it may be at present, it is an element of strength for the future.”

1941

17 July – USSR. SS Gruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich gave the orders for four SS Einsatzgruppen to follow the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union with the invasion. Their purpose was not tactical nor military, but part of Nazi party ideology.  They were to exterminate Jewish and Roma/Sinti or Gypsy communities as well as any political opposition. This especially meant any communist party members.

One of the effective players in this operation was Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski.  He would fly from town to town and have his aides gather up records from city halls.  There they would find a listing of officials as well as classification by ethnicity of local citizens.  The good record keeping made the job much easier for the SS.

1942

31 July – Moscow. As the German armies pushed toward Stalingrad and into the Caucasus, Stalin gave the orders that no Red Army units were to retreat.  “Not one step backwards,” the orders read. “Commanders, commissars and political workers who abandon a position without an order from higher headquarters are traitors to the Motherland and will be treated accordingly.”  The communist party news organ, Red Star, emphasized that any soldier who fails and does not do his duty “on the battlefield instead of standing to the death will be condemned as a traitor selling his country into Germany slavery.”

“Accordingly” apparently translates a “shot” in the original Russian.  This brings to mind the quote from Joseph Stalin, “It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army.”

Leningrad was already in the eleventh month of its 900-day siege.  It began on 8 September 1941 and lasted 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 5 days, until 27 January 1944.

1943

17 July – Solomons Islands. In the Pacific, the Allies staged a heavy 12-hour air raid on Japanese naval and air positions.  Wave after wave of Liberators and Flying Fortresses bomved the Kahili airfield and paralyzed or destroyed the enemy planes on the ground.  Torpedo bombers, the Avengers, attacked ships at Bougainville while their support fighters tangled with the Japanese Zeros. The Allies sunk seven ships in the harbor, including a light cruiser and two destroyers.  After shooting down nearly fifty Japanese aircraft, all but six Allied planes returned safely home.

1944

20 July – Wilczy Szaniec or Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in NE Poland, what was East Prussian, was the scene of the famous von Stauffenberg plot to kill the Fuhrer.  At 12:42 pm in the Conference center of the compound, Hitler was poring over maps with his General staff when a huge explosion blew the room apart.  Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg had been in the meeting and left his explosive-laden briefcase strategically placed under the conference table.  By all logic, this should have done the trick.

Hitler and Mussolini

Hitler shows Mussolini the bomb damage from the assassination attempt. July 1944.

Von Stauffenberg had excused himself from the meeting and had plans to proceed to Berlin to carry out the plot.  In the meantime, one of the officers moved the valise, having accidently hit it with his foot.  Although four officers died from the explosion, Hitler was relatively unscathed considering the impact.  He was left with temporary deafness and physically shaken, but was able to receive his ally, Benito Mussolini, later that day.  The famous photo shows the two inspecting the aftermath of the blast together.

The D-Day Invasion-The Beach Landings

As a commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, Mark continues with a discussion of Operation Overlord in June 1944, especially the Omaha Beach landings and actions at Vierville Draw on D-Day.

D-Day Invasion: Preparation and Deception

As a commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, Mark discusses Operation Overlord, the planning of the D-Day invasion, and the deception operations. This podcast includes excerpts from Dr. Stephen Ambrose’s lectures on WWII.

You will also want to listen to my two-part interview with D-Day veteran, Mort Sheffloe (July 12 and 26, 2017 episodes). Last year, Mort traveled with me on a tour and we discussed his WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Some of the interviews took place while walking the sands of Utah and Omaha Beaches and at nearby cafes.

The Ghost Army of WWII with Rick Beyer

In this episode of History With Mark Bielski, Rick Beyer discusses the Ghost Army operations in WWII and the upcoming tour he will be leading this September to experience and study their creative deceptions during the war.

Predicting Pearl Harbor

Ron Drez discusses his latest book, Predicting Pearl Harbor: Billy Mitchell and the Path to War. Gen. Billy Mitchell recognized the signs and foresaw the eventual showdown between the two nations―eighteen years before the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. Yet his predictions were dismissed out of hand.

From Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 voyage into Japanese waters to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States and Japan were on a collision course.

Gen. Billy Mitchell recognized the signs and foresaw the eventual showdown between the two nations―eighteen years before the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. Yet his predictions were dismissed out of hand. Mitchell’s attempts to have his theories taken seriously led to scorn and a subsequent court martialing. Primary-source documents, memoirs, and firsthand testimonies deliver an exhaustive background to Mitchell’s prescient reports. Now, historian Ronald J. Drez finally gives credence to the man called the “Cassandra General.”

April Historical Events: Civil War and WWII

Mark takes a look at some significant events that took place in April during the Civil War and WWII. “April is the cruelest month” according to T.S. Eliot, but how accurate is that historically? You decide. Here are some major happenings and a few occurrences that are not so well known: Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Eel Creek, California, Norway, Murmansk and Iraq.

CIVIL WAR

1861

11-14 April – Charleston, SC -Thursday to Sunday. A South Carolina delegation of three men delivered a demand for surrender to Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The message was from Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and stated that they intended to take “possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors . . . necessary to its defense and security.” They let Anderson know that they would not fire upon his position if he advised them of the time of the evacuation of the Union troops stationed there.

Anderson replied that he also would not fire except in response, but that he would evacuate on 15 April if he did not receive supplies coming from the Federal government.The Confederates were aware that a supply ship was en route and deemed the answer unsatisfactory. At 0430 on Friday a signal shot opened a barrage from the other batteries in rotation. Anderson had a garrison of 85 officers and men as well as over forty laborers who worked in the fort. They began to return fire at 0700. More to come on Edmund Ruffin in a future episode.

On Saturday, after thirty-four hours of bombardment, a rash of fires and destruction, and some minor injuries, Fort Sumter capitulated. The formal surrender ceremony occurred on Sunday at which time was the only fatality. When the colors changed and the fifty-gun salute concluded, there was an accidental explosion in a pile of ammunition that killed a Union private and injured several others.

Major Anderson, a Kentuckian, remarked that “Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong. . . . They must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart.”

South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens addressed a crowd, “We have met them and we have conquered.”

1862

4-5 April – Union General George B. McClellan had moved most of his massive army of 120,000 men plus horses, mules, artillery, wagons and supplies from Alexandria, VA down the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay to land at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. His aim was to march his horde northwest and take Richmond. His first obstacle was Yorktown, where his army attacked 15,000 Confederates under General John Bankhead Magruder. General Joseph E. Johnston, in command of the Confederate Army in Virginia was sending reinforcements while McClellan’s men prepared to conduct a siege. After a minor battle, the Confederates withdrew toward Williamsburg.

6-7 April – Battle of Shiloh. In southwest Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant had brought his army to Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. At the same time, General Albert Sidney Johnston was leading his Confederate force northward from Mississippi. Johnston would suffer a mortal wound that caused him to bleed to death in minutes on the first day of battle. Beauregard, who just a year earlier had been in command on the war’s opening day at Fort Sumter, took the reins. On the first day, he pushed the Union forces back nearly two miles. By nightfall, Gen. Grant’s camp was almost back at the landing at the Tennessee River—an important position to retain. That night reinforcements arrived and Grant launched a counterattack. The fighting raged for six hours until Beauregard decided to withdraw. The Federals did not pursue and the Confederates returned to Corinth, Mississippi.

WORLD WAR II

1940

19 April – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Three convoys departed Scotland, from the mainland and Scapa Flow: destination Norway. British and French forces were planning to take control of Norwegian ports but in a seemingly uncoordinated effort, the army and navy command staffs travelled separately. With a disjointed embarkation schedule, units did not know the whereabouts of the artillery nor munitions in many cases. While some of the transports tarried off the coast, hesitant to make an amphibious assault, German Stukas dived and strafed. Once on shore, the Allies would face the German 169thcrack mountain division. With the exception of the French Chasseurs Alpins, none of the other units had trained for mountain fighting.

1941

3 April – Rashid Ali al-Gaylani took over the government of Iraq in a coup backed by Nazi Germany. He deposed the British backed monarchical administration of six-year old King Faisal II. Gaylani refused to allow any Allied transports through his country. Baghdad became an HQ for Nazi intelligence operations in the Middle East.

1942

1 April – Murmansk, USSR- Convoy PQ-13 reached its destination with munitions and war supplies for the Soviet Union. The convoy began with 19 merchant ships, and reached the harbor after losing five vessels. German U-boats destroyed two, the Luftwaffe accounted for another two sinkings and a destroy took out the fifth. A violent storm had separated the convoy from its destroyer escort and German scout planes located the ships and called in the attack. The convoy departed northern Scotland before stopping in Iceland on the voyage through the Arctic Sea. This was the first Arctic convoy to reach Murmansk, the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Because of the Gulf Stream currents, the harbor in Murmansk remains ice-free for a good part of the year.

Patton and the Third Army at Fort Driant

Mark talks with historian Kevin Hymel about General Patton and the Third Army at Fort Driant. After the historic breakout in Normandy and their rapid advance through northern France, the Third Army faced an unexpected obstacle at Fort Driant on the Maginot Line. A seasoned garrison of Wehrmacht troops put up a staunch resistance. Mark and Kevin Hymel discuss the battle and logistics issues that bogged down their progress.