Archive for the 'meet the author' Tag


Today marks the 37th anniversary of the start of Operation Linebacker II aka Christmas Bombings so it was only appropriate that I e-interviewed Robert Harder, author of Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam.

What inspired you to write Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam?

After reading Marshal Michel’s “The 11 Days of Christmas”, I realized that not only had no one told the story of Linebacker Two from the navigator-bombardier viewpoint, no one had told the full story of USAF rated non-pilot flying officers. I decided to wrap both major topics into one package. I was fortunate; Naval Institute Press was my first choice as a publisher; and was the first and only press I submitted it to.

How does Flying From the Black Hole fill a void in aviation historiography?

Explaining American post World War Two heavy bomber history from the viewpoint of the B-52 navigator-bombardier, the mainstay heavy bomber in the USAF from 1955 to present day. While several vanity books have written about this topic, from this navigator-bombardier slant, Black Hole is the only book to deal with it from a national royalty press.

What were some of your more insightful sources?

My primary information came from my personal files and experience. Michel’s “11 Days” was the most important printed source; following closely on its heels were dozens of email interviews with World War Two, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, and Linebacker Two veterans.

How does writing your first book compare to your 145 combat missions during the Vietnam War?

Not comparable really. I could not have written about my experiences in the manner I personally wished for at least a quarter century due to classified material concerns. And then it took me another 20 years for me to realize that it was something that cried out to be done, for the sake of all the USAF rated nonpilot flying officers. It really came home in 2004 when the Air Force and Navy said that all the former positions in those rated nonpilot fields (RIOs, navigators, bombardiers, electronic warfare officers,observers, etc) would be discontinued and that such related cockpit positions still remaining would in the future be manned by Combat Systems Operators (CSOs) and Weapon Systems Officers (WSOs). I was also very heavily encouraged (indeed mentored) by aviation historian and best selling writer, Walter Boyne. Boyne has long lamented the lack of documentation of the work of the B-52 navigator-bombardiers. I am very grateful for his confidence and support.

The final portion of my e-interview with John Burton is pasted below… Many thanks to John for his time as well as writing a fine book.

Any lessons learned from Fortnight of Infamy that are applicable for today’s policymakers?

World War II is especially interesting from the standpoint that it was a global conflict which really consisted of two distinctly separate, differently-motivated wars that occurred at the same time. In the broadest terms, Germany’s war in Europe and the Mediterranean was ignited by a combination of fascist ideology and Nazi rallying of a desire for retribution on the part of a country impoverished by a crushing debt-load of war reparations imposed as a “settlement” for the First World War. Japan’s war in East Asia and the Pacific was primarily instigated by the ambitions of a rapidly-growing, overpopulated nation to gain economic advantage and natural resources as expeditiously as possible.

Today, one can recognize a deja vu of new threats that are motivated by hostile or potentially hostile forces that are similarly driven, either by ideology or the eventual need to compete for natural resources. Despite significant advantages it holds in military technology, the United States once again faces the challenge of international over-commitment under conditions where American economic and political capability to influence future events in hot-spots of unrest around the globe has become limited.

If our experience in the Pacific during 1941 should teach us anything, that lesson would be to not underestimate the capabilities or intentions of our likely opponents – and not to so arrogantly and boldly overestimate our own ability to respond to challenges that arise.

Interestingly, one of the reasons the War Department was inclined to be unjustifiably bullish in its self-assessment of American battlefield capabilities during 1941 was the existence of a “weapons system” known as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. As the U.S. painfully discovered during the first fortnight of war, and the year that followed, that sophisticated bomber and its sibling, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, were not especially useful in countering the kind of offensive that Japan had launched in the Pacific – even though the four-engine bomber had been touted since the mid-1930s as a key and necessary component of America’s coastal defense. Its initial failure came as a surprise to many analysts and air officers. In fact, it was not until mid-1944 that the concept of strategic bombing really started to be even marginally effective above Europe. Over Japan, as General Curtis LeMay controversially demonstrated during 1945, the wide-area firebombing of population centers was more effective than any strategic bombing of Japanese factories. Perhaps, in this, there is also a lesson for modern managers of warfare: overdependence on any single type of complex weapons system can be very risky – especially if its effectiveness is largely a matter of theory and conjecture.

Of course, we should always remember that there is ample precedent that may be drawn from the annals of armed conflict to conclusively demonstrate that wars are still primarily won by those determined and courageous men on the ground who engage in combat with light weapons.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

Fortnight of Infamy: Part 3

December 2009


Part 3 of my interview with author John Burton about December 1941. 

What are some of the reasons for the defeat of Allied air power west of Pearl Harbor?

In retrospect, the reasons for the collapse of Allied air power in the Far East are fairly simple to catalog, and I hope clearly enough presented to any reader of Fortnight of Infamy. Notable among those reasons are the following:

1. The timing of Japan’s nearly simultaneous assaults on Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Siam (Thailand) and Malaya was extremely beneficial to the Japanese war effort. Attacks were fully expected in Siam and the Philippines. In fact, a number of Japanese reconnaissance over-flights of Philippine, Siamese, and Malayan territories had taken place during the week preceding the outbreak of hostilities. Over the island of Luzon, American fighters had repeatedly made attempts to intercept the intruders, without success. U.S. Navy and Army Air Forces aircraft had conducted similar surveillance missions around Japanese bases in French Indochina (Vietnam) and Formosa (Taiwan). From observations made during these flights, it was clear several days before December 7, 1941, that Japan was ready to launch invasions at one or more points in the Far East. Signal intelligence from listening stations in Manila and Honolulu effectively confirmed that assumption. In the event, weather conditions over the South China Sea made a fateful contribution to the success of Japan’s plan: a storm-induced delay in the initial raids on the on Philippines set the stage for major confusion when an unanticipated amphibious landing in Northern Malaya and the Pearl Harbor attack occurred before action in the Philippines. The consequences of this confusion proved disastrous.

2. A string of problems with the handful of American and British air warning radar installations in the Pacific and Far East sacrificed an important early detection advantage that could have helped the Allies respond to Japanese air raids. Had these devices been fully operational, on schedule, Japan could easily have lost an important element of surprise. Instead, the distribution of information obtained from the radar equipment only added to Allied confusion. Poor control of the dispatch for fighter aircraft attempting interceptions quickly magnified the problem.

3. Extreme deficiencies with American fighter planes rendered American, Australian and British interceptor squadrons virtually impotent. Adding to the issues with interception control, problems with fuel systems and engines in RAF and RAAF Brewster Buffaloes inhibited the ability of those Allied planes to attain sufficiently high altitudes for defense above Malayan targets. In the Philippines, a lack of oxygen tanks and oxygen-making equipment prevented most Curtiss P-40 Warhawks from reaching anywhere near the height necessary to intercept Japanese heavy bombers. And, for the few P-40s that did have bottles of oxygen to keep their pilots breathing above an altitude of 15,000 feet, a lack of two-stage superchargers ensured that their engines could not breathe well-enough at the 25,000-foot level that would have had to be attained to effectively engage in combat.

4. Pilot inexperience also limited the effectiveness of American and Australian interceptors. The few men who did manage to engage in aerial combat with enemy bombers were not properly trained in air-to-air gunnery. Improper gun maintenance exacerbated that problem when many of the Allied weapons failed to fire in flight. Consequently, most damage the young rookies inflicted was minimal – and, more often than not, those Allied fliers fell as prey to highly-skilled Japanese pilots in escorting fighters.

5. A serious lack of effective antiaircraft gun emplacements around Philippine and Malayan airbases gave Japanese bombers and strafing fighters a free pass to inflict serious damage on every important Allied landing field. Within the first forty-eight hours of the war, these raids dealt a serious blow to the Allies – one from which the battered American and British Commonwealth air forces did not manage to recover.

Overall, the Japanese made relatively few mistakes in prosecuting their opening campaigns of the Pacific War, while the Allies suffered heavily as a result of many blunders. At the end of the day, one can also say with some assurance that luck was with Japan and not with the Allies.

More of my interview with John Burton, author of Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of Pearl Harbor, December 1941. How did sudden dependence on airpower in the Far East present a serious problem for the United States?

Today, we take for granted the importance of the role of airpower in any theater of war; whether we’re considering the contest for air superiority above enemy lines, precision bombardment of strategic objectives, interdiction of supply lines, or vertical envelopment operations to capture key territories. It has become a given that control of the skies is a necessary prerequisite for control of the battlefield. From a naval point of view, the carrier task force has been the flexible base of power for every ‘projection of force’ mission the United States has staged since World War II. Airpower has actually become such an integral part of our concept of military action that it is virtually impossible to imagine the U.S. conducting any operation without aviation involvement.

In 1941, however, United States doctrine for employment of airpower was more of a theory than a practical tool that could be leveraged to win campaigns. Until the middle of that year, in fact, the shelves of Franklin Roosevelt’s “arsenal of democracy” were bare – particularly with regard to supplies of modern aircraft. At that point in time, Japan possessed greater aviation resources and had amassed far more practical experience in managing air operations.

In the words of Major General Lewis Brereton, commander of the U.S. Army’s Far East Air Force, “we were definitely a third-rate air power”. The U.S. may have had a first-rate navy, but in 1941 that service could reach, at best, only at a level of parity with the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific. A five-to-three overall numerical and tonnage advantage that arms control negotiations had bestowed upon the U.S. Navy was hardly enough for America to manage an adequate defense for both the Atlantic and the Pacific in any “two ocean war”. When the Japanese finally chose to ignore the treaties, the balance of naval power tipped firmly in favor of Tokyo. Coupled with the fact that American land and air forces were actually quite inferior in both quantity and quality when compared with those of Japan, the United States found itself in a decidedly tenuous position at the end of 1941.

General Brereton and his peers faced a grim reality that the United States could do little to threaten, let alone stop, Japan’s armed forays into China and Southeast Asia. For nearly forty years, the secret papers and studies that constituted America’s War Plan Orange indicated that a rapid defeat of forces in the Philippines would be inevitable once the Japanese committed to any serious invasion attempt. Grudgingly, U.S. military leadership had come to accept the fact that naval limitation treaties and budget constraints all but precluded armed intervention in the Far East. By the mid-1930s, American politicians had even decided to grant the Philippines independence; an act that would effectively and conveniently relieve the U.S. of any responsibility to defend interests in Southeast Asia. After Japan began its invasion of China in 1937, the best the United States could really hope to do to curb Japanese expansion was to materially support the Chinese Nationalist war effort being led by Chiang Kai-Shek and place progressive sanctions on Japanese trade. Predictably, the results of that effort were less than satisfactory.

At the close of 1941, neither the U.S. nor Great Britain was in any position to provide an adequate ground force or naval deterrent to rein in Japan; even by marshaling their collective resources. In an unusual confluence of events that began in a series of clandestine meetings with Chinese authorities during November of 1940, and culminated with a secret agreement between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Argentia Conference in August, 1941, the idea of a pre-emptive bombardment of the Japanese home islands took shape. Aircraft procurement plans that had been set in motion by France before its defeat in 1940 – and Churchill’s willingness to defer deliveries of fighters and long-range bombers that had been scheduled for delivery to the Royal Air Force – enabled a rapid, if somewhat ill-conceived, American plan for deployment of a substantial air force presence in the Philippines. Four-engine bombers were judged to be the only stick the Allies could wield in the struggle to bring Japanese aggression to a halt – at least for the near term.

In most War Plan Orange scenarios, the U.S. intended to maintain only minimal garrison forces in the Western Pacific, and all U.S. possessions west of Midway were expected to be lost in short order. Once an attack by Japan triggered an American response, the U.S. planned to begin a gradual, relentless, build-up of naval and ground forces that would slowly advance westward from Hawaii toward Japan. Victory was anticipated, but generally estimated to require three to four years of active fighting. Generals and admirals understood the basic constraint: until war was formally declared, a parsimonious Congress would be unlikely to release the funds needed to prepare for such a costly effort.

The eleventh-hour investment of strategic aviation assets in the Philippines constituted a problematic ‘about face’ with regard to the tenets of War Plan Orange. When the decision to send nearly a thousand planes to the Philippines was finally confirmed at the Argentia Conference, no logistics process existed to support such an extensive deployment. The required numbers of transport ships, airbases and trained personnel simply did not exist – and it was believed that adequate preparations to achieve a critical mass for success of the plan could not be made before April, 1942. Consequently, the U.S. diplomatic process in the closing weeks of 1941 was generally tuned toward delaying any Japanese attack in the Far East until the spring months of 1942.

In an unfortunate turn of events (and possibly due to some miscommunication between government departments), the Allied oil embargo forced Japan to tip its hand prematurely (at least as far as the Allied timetable was concerned). In reality, an oil-thirsty Japan had actually planned to launch its attack in October, 1941, but the abrupt resignation of most of Japan’s governing cabinet led to a delay and additional “peace” negotiations.

As is often the case, timing is everything: the Allies were caught with their trousers rather tightly wrapped around their ankles.

To be continued…

First of a three-part series of my e-interview with John Burton, author of Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of Pearl Harbor, December 1941.

What inspired you to write Fortnight of Infamy and how is it different from other books written about 8-24 December 1941?

For most of my life, I’ve resided within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean. As a child, I lived in Hawaii at the time the epic movie Tora, Tora, Tora was released. My proximity to Pearl Harbor and the influence of that film drew my attention to the history of the Japanese attack from an early age. However, the more intently I studied the incident that took place on Oahu, the more I realized that concurrent events at the opposite side of the Pacific were equally interesting – and vastly more important in their overall impact on the U.S. and Allied war effort. Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunning, actual losses of personnel, equipment, and facilities in Hawaii paled in comparison with those in the Far East. In the end, the present-day status quo was barely affected by the Japanese bombs that fell on Oahu, but it was changed altogether by what took place in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia during December of 1941.

It seems that most Americans – distracted as they are by Hollywood versions of Japan’s assault on Oahu – don’t fully grasp the desperate situation that the United States faced at the start of the Pacific War. That is not really surprising, since even the curriculum of a higher education does not advance the story of this period much beyond that told by the filmmakers. Unless one is a fairly serious student of history, the study of WWII in the Pacific is perfunctorily limited to the Pearl Harbor attack, an occasional brief mention of the battle at Midway, and a slightly more protracted discussion of the ethics surrounding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While these are undeniably important events, I’m guessing few people know that General Douglas MacArthur’s surrender in the Philippines, and the British capitulation of Malaya and Singapore, constituted the worst battlefield defeats that the U.S. and Great Britain have ever experienced; before or since. In the very short duration of those disastrous campaigns, nearly a quarter-million Allied soldiers were either killed or forced into a torturous and extended captivity, and their fate was sealed within the first fortnight of combat.

An extensive and comprehensive body of research and literature has been compiled over the years about the Pearl Harbor topic. Very few stones have been left unturned at this point. In contrast, there is a relative paucity of published information about the early weeks of war in the Far East. Despite the fact that the situation in the Far East is underreported, until Fortnight of Infamy was published a reader would have had to acquire and digest several dozen books just to acquire a basic understanding of these battles and their interrelationship. Because most of those volumes are very narrowly focused on specific topics – including two excellent aviation-related books written by Bill Bartsch (Doomed at the Start and December 8, 1941) – they do not coherently combine aspects of the Philippine campaign with those of the simultaneous Malaya/Singapore campaign. Although airpower was the most important factor in the Allied defense of the colonial Far East during December of 1941, before the publication of Fortnight of Infamy, the only attempt at covering the whole subject was found in two volumes of Bloody Shambles, by Shores, Cull and Izawa. Unfortunately, those books – which do stand as an excellent reference for Japanese and British air operations – contain many inaccuracies in their account of American activities, and make no attempt to explain or analyze the events they summarize. Thus, I wrote Fortnight of Infamy in an effort to fill in much of that gap by providing a comprehensive, yet readable, account of the Allied tragedy that took place west of Pearl Harbor.

To be continued…

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 7 Comments

978159114133465 years ago, the U.S. Army reached the Rhine. David Colley’s book contains many lessons for future leaders. A must read that will leave you wishing we would turn back time .

What inspired you to write Decision at Strasbourg?

Studying WWII in Europe I was intrigued by mention in many histories that Lt. Gen. Devers’ 7th Army reached the Rhine on November 24 1944 and that he planned a cross-river attack. This was four months before any of the other armies under Patton, Bradley and Montgomery reached the Rhine and yet no historian seemed interested in asking the elementary question: why didn’t Devers cross, could he have crossed and what would have been the outcome and results? The usual explanation was that 6th Army Group was too far from the stated allied objective, the Ruhr Industrial Area, to have an effect or that Devers’ didn’t have the necessary logistical support or the punch to make the crossing.

So I started researching and found all these reasons to be bunk. Sixth Army Group was a sizable Army – about 350,000 men – and while it included the French First Army that was not completely up to par, the 7th Army under General Alexander Patch, was arguably the best and most combat tested army in Europe. It included the 36th, the 45th and the 3rd Divisions that had fought through Africa, Italy and France. And it was 7th Army that was to make the crossing just north of Strasbourg at Rastatt, Germany, not the French. As for being to far from the Ruhr, this too didn’t make sense. Patton’s objective was the Saar Industrial Area and 7th Army wasn’t that far from the Saar. Devers’ objective was to cross and take the pressure off Patton’s 3rd Army by coming in behind the German 1st Army. This would have unleashed Patton to take the Saar. These moves probably would have released pressure farther to the north and allowed First Army and the British and Canadian armies to break the stalemate along the western front and reach the Ruhr.

I like to compare Devers’ planned attack to a football game. How silly would it be for a coach not to take advantage of an opponent’s week side and keep running and passing to its strong side? This is what Eisenhower and SHAEF were doing by attacking the enemy at its strongest points in the north. The German front opposite Devers in Alsace was the weakest one so weak that patrols found the defense on the German side empty.

How would have history been different in your view if General Eisenhower had not cancelled Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers’ Sixth Army Group planned attack across the Rhine in late November 1944?

I will let General Garrison Davidson address this issue. He was chief engineer for 6th Army Group during the war and later was 7th Army commander in Europe during the Cold War and Commandant at West Point:

“It is interesting to conjecture what might have been the effect of the exploitation of an unexpected crossing of the Rhine in the south in late November or early December and an envelopment of the Ardennes to the north along the east bank of the Rhine… I have often wondered what might have happened had Ike had the audacity to take a calculated risk, as General Patton would have instead of playing it safe. Perhaps success would have eliminated any possibility of the Battle of the Bulge, 40,000 (80,000 actually) casualties there would have been avoided and the war shortened by a number of months at the saving of other thousands of lives.”

I also like to point out that even a feint might have yielded tremendous rewards. Had Devers sent over a few battalions with the idea of withdrawing them the Germans would still have to had to have responded and this response would have depleted their resources elsewhere thereby weakening their front. A feint alone might have caused the German front line to crumble. There wasn’t much holding up the German front except dogged determination.

Why is General Devers and his 6th Army Group almost forgotten participants in the European War?

First, the invasion of southern France was considered a sideshow from the start, a diversion that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere except provide a flank guard to Patton’s Third Army. That 6th Army Group was never included in SHAEF planning even after it became a powerful force. The focus of SHAEF’s planning and the focus of public relations and the press was on the northern armies led by Patton, Bradley and Montgomery. Sixth Army Group was an orphan that never got much publicity. During the war most people did not recognize Devers name and didn’t know how to pronounce it – Deevers or Devers.

Also Devers never wrote his memoirs thus leaving his story to be interpreted by others and no one has ever written a comprehensive biography of the man. The history of WWII like so many wars was determined by the writings of other generals, most who served in the armies – 12th and 21st Army Groups – in northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Bradley, Patton, Montgomery and Eisenhower, penned their memoirs and histories and historians have generally followed their stories and rationalizations. Even most of the official histories are about the war in northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Historians take their cues and information from these sources. There is very little about 6th Army Group. The only biography I know of that relates in any way to southern France is Truscott’s and his time in France was limited. Gen. Alexander Patch, commander of 7th Army in France, died in the fall of 1945 and never had time to write a biography. De Lattre of First French Army wrote a history but it is about the French. Brooks, who commanded 15th Corps, and Haislip, 6th Corps, never wrote biographies to my knowledge. Le Clerc, commanding 2nd French Armored Division that captured Strasbourg, was killed in a plane crash in 1946. Davidson lived a long life and retired a 4-star general and I quote from his unpublished memoir above, but he also gave an interview – now housed in Washington – in which vehemently argued that Devers’ cross-Rhine attack could have changed the course of the war.

What are some of the lessons learned for future commanders that can be found in your book?

That an army should be flexible and generals and leaders of all ranks taught to take advantage of situations that arise such as Devers’ Rhine crossing. This was one of Rommel’s great traits – when he saw a great tactical opportunity he acted upon it sometimes at great risk. He attacked when most would have stayed put or retreated. The German experience in Russia is another example, I believe, where their generals took advantage of opportunities even at great risk. The Gudarians stormed ahead when others would have acted cautiously. The American experience in Europe during WWII, I believe, reflects cautious leadership by most generals, Patton being the exception. There were other instances on the western front where a breakthrough was achieved but the leadership was unable to take advantage of the opportunities.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

swingshiftSavannah, GA is one of my favorite cities and so it was a real treat to e-interview Tony Cope about his book, On The Swing Shift: Building Liberty Ships in Savannah.

What inspired you to write On the Swing Shift: Building Liberty Ships in Savannah?

I am a native of Savannah and was a child during World War II. I never saw the shipyard, but remember hearing the various whistles during the day and seeing the lights from my second story bedroom windows at night. The yard closed just after the war and the site remained basically derelict for many years. As an adult I drove past the site twice a day on the way to work with no recollection of what took place there. In the late 1980s, I was asked to chair a local committee established to develop some interest in establishing a museum to commemorate the Mighty Eighth Air Force which was created in Savannah and then moved to Britain to fight the air war against Germany. To create this interest, I wanted to come up with a slide show to use for talks to civic clubs and other groups and asked a friend at the local paper to run a request in his column for wartime photographs of Savannah. I received a call from a woman who had a set of six photos of her mother christening one of the Libertys launched by the yard in Savannah. That got me thinking about the yard and wondering that if I had forgotten what happened there maybe most other Savannahians had as well. That assumption was correct…the only people who remembered it were the people who had worked there or sailed on the ships. I just thought that there was a great story there and those people ought to be remembered.

What were some of your more insightful sources for On the Swing Swift?

The most insightful sources were certainly the people involved…the 120 shipyard workers, merchant seamen, Navy and Coast Guard personnel that I was able to interview. All were so excited to talk about their experiences and that someone was taking an interest in what they had done. Some were people that I had known in other circumstances, but never knew anything about this part of their lives. All were fascinating, but one early interview stands out. A friend who worked at the Georgia Ports told me of a retired Merchant captain who had sunk a U-boat, but warned me that he didn’t suffer fools gladly. I had a great two hour interview with Capt. Clifford Thomas who was master of a number of Libertys after the war, but was Third Mate on the S. S. James Jackson when it did fire on a U-boat, but was not credited with its sinking. Captain Thomas not only related his own experiences, but also gave me many names of other merchant seamen who could help with my project. It was a really enlightening and enjoyable interview and contrary to my friend’s warning, we got along splendidly. Unfortunately, when I got home, I found that I had failed to punch the record button on my brand new tape recorder. It was with great fear and trepidation that I called Capt.Thomas and asked if he could do the interview over again. He understood perfectly and we did the two hours again the next night. After I moved to Ireland, we talked by phone a number of times and he wrote very detailed accounts of situations that I asked him about. Unfortunately, he died before the book was published.

Can you tell us a little bit about a day in the life of a shipyard worker?

From the various interviews that I conducted with workers, a typical day at Southeastern was exciting and often very dull. The assembly line method of building Libertys meant that much of the work was repetitious; doing the same job over and over. Many of these workers had never seen a ship before much less built one and had to be trained to be welders, shipwrights and the various other skills necessary to building a ship. It was hot…over 100 degrees in the summer made even hotter by working on and around so much steel. It was freezing in the winter with any bare skin sticking to frozen steel. Then there were the bugs, swarms of mosquitoes and deer flies that bred in the marshes close by the yard in the summer. It was dangerous work; banging, cutting, shaping steel, huge ship parts being carried overhead by gantries. It was exciting though…to see a completed hull slide down the ways or a fully loaded Liberty sail down the river past the yard on its way to a war zone, to know that they were part of the effort to defeat the Axis powers.

Savannah has such a proud history. Can you tell us a little bit more about the city’s contribution to the war effort?

Savannah’s contribution to the war effort was certainly great. Southeastern was one of three shipyards building ships during the war and many other industries produced ammunition, trailers, boxes and bags for military use and many other products vital to the war effort. Many of its sons and daughters went to war and many never returned. As school children we participated in scrap drives, war bond drives, collecting Bundles For Britain and tending Victory gardens. There are monuments dedicated to the dead of that war and The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum is now a very successful reality in Savannah. There is no monument to commemorate the shipyard and those who worked there. There are displays in the Savannah History Museum and the Ships of the Sea museum. There was a monument to Merchant Marine seamen killed in that war and the other prior wars that our nation has been involved in, but it was taken down and replaced with a monument to commemorate the Viet Nam War dead. The bronze plaques from the Merchant Marine monument are in storage somewhere in Savannah and it is my hope that “On The Swing Shift” will help to develop interest in restoring that monument and recognizing the workers at Southeastern, some of whom died or were injured doing very dangerous work there.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The research for and the writing of this book was an amazing experience for me; meeting the people and hearing their stories, trying to find information from a variety of sources in an attempt to be as accurate as possible in telling the story of this shipyard. It was a bit like a detective trying to find pieces of evidence in different places and putting it all together to solve a case. For me, some of that evidence came from across the continent and across the Atlantic Ocean. I have been fortunate in that I have had the opportunity to do a lot of very interesting things during my lifetime. This ranks right up there.

If you need additional information, I have a website, which gives a description of the book, my bio and some reviews.

adakIt was 31 years ago today that AF 586 (a P-3 Orion flying a sensitive mission in the north Pacific) was forced to ditch into the empty, mountainous seas off the Aleutian Islands. What follows is an amazing rescue that could only be written by a P-3 pilot like Andrew Jampoler.

Could you provide a short synopsis of Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586?

AF 586, a nearly-new Navy P-3 “Orion” from Patrol Squadron 9’s detachment at Naval Station Adak, Alaska, took off the morning of October 26, 1978, for a nine hour special mission flight off Soviet Kamchatka. Some six hours later the aircraft was down in the North Pacific, midway between the Soviet Union and Attu (the last American outpost in the Aleutian Islands) with fourteen of its fifteen men afloat in two rafts and their plane commander lost at sea.

“Adak” is the story of that mission, the crew, and their ordeal, and the astonishing and successful effort that brought ten men home alive.

Who are some of the heroes of Adak?

LCDR Jerry Grigsby’s superb airmanship put the big aircraft into stormy waters intact on three engines. LT(JG) Matt Gibbon’s cool preparations for the ditching while AF 586 limped toward Shemya with recurrent fires in the No. 1 nacelle made the crew’s escape from the aircraft possible. The ditching triggered a determined SAR operation which, at one time, had planes from the Air Force, the Navy, and the Coast Guard in the air at the same time–together with some Soviet Air Force observers.

Soon after midnight three men of the crew were dead from exposure. The others in the rafts were in extremis, too.

Can you tell us a little bit about the inter-agency cooperation that was involved in the rescue?

Fast and close overnight cooperation between the Departments of Defense and State, and Washington and Moscow, remarkable at the height of the Cold War, diverted a Soviet fishing trawler to the scene early on October 27th, and it was this ship–the only vessel near enough to help in time–that saved the living. The survivors were returned to US custody a week later.

What are some of the lessons learned that are applicable to today’s aviators?

AF 586 proved to maritime patrol aircrews flying over northern waters that survival was possible under almost unimaginably harsh conditions.

Who should read Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586?

Anyone who flies (or has flow) over open water would enjoy this adventure story, described by “The Wall Street Journal” as “an adventure story to rival the best you’ve ever read.”

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 3 Comments

middle seaMaking a return visit back to Meet the Author on USNI Blog is Vincent P. O’ Hara. He has authored another masterpiece in my opinion. You are in for another treat.

Could you provide a short synopsis of Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940-1945?

Struggle for the Middle Sea describes the naval war fought in the Mediterranean and Red Sea from June 1940 to May 1945 in terms of the five great navies that participated: Great Britain’s Royal Navy, Italy’s Regia Marina, France’s Marine Nationale, The United States Navy and the German Kriegsmarine. It examines the national imperatives that made the Mediterranean such a vital theater for each of these powers and it analyses their actions and performances over the entire five-year campaign. The book has an unusual depth of detail, particularly in its coverage of naval surface combat and it is filled with fresh viewpoints that are supported by extensive research in Italian and French sources. The thirteen chapters range from the pre-war situation to France’s defeat, Italy’s parallel war, convoy actions, France’s naval campaign off Syria, the period of Axis domination, the Italian armistice and Germany’s war in the Aegean, Adriatic and Ligurian Seas. Struggle for the Middle Sea ends with an analysis of the campaign and draws some unconventional conclusions.

How does Struggle for the Middle Sea fill a void in Navy historiography?

Struggle for the Middle Sea fills several voids. First, despite the importance of the Mediterranean and the fact it saw more combat than the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, remarkably little has been written about the naval struggle fought there. Most of what has been written treats the theater in segments such as the 1940-43 Anglo-Italian convoy war or the 1943-44 Allied amphibious expeditions. Struggle for the Middle Sea covers the entire theater and campaign and it does it, I believe, from a neutral viewpoint, treating all the major participants equally. Readers are surprised, for example, to learn that the French had such profound interests in the region and were fighting from the very beginning to the very end, or that the Germans deployed more than fifty destroyer-sized warships in the Mediterranean and conducted a successful littoral campaign in the face of what should have been overwhelming Allied strength.

The Mediterranean war’s historiography is also deficient in that it has been strongly influenced by received interpretations that are rooted in wartime propaganda. These are so pervasive they have entered popular culture. How does an Italian admiral see his fleet? In a glass-bottomed boat. The July 1940 Action off Calabria (the English name) is a good example of what I mean. This battle involved five battleships and nineteen cruisers and was the largest fleet action fought in European waters during the war. When I sat down to read about Calabria—every author, including luminaries like Stephen Roskill, P. K. Kemp, Martin Stephen, Nathan Miller and Julian Thompson—stated that in this action the British asserted a moral ascendancy over the Italians. They all used these words. In reading and re-reading their accounts, I couldn’t see how the facts squared with such a unanimous conclusion. Well, it turned out they were quoting Admiral Cunningham’s report to the Admiralty, made five months after the fact. His contemporary comments are much less confident. Meanwhile, the Italian admiral who was second in command wrote just after the battle, “One result that occurred . . . was that all personnel felt . . . our ability to confront and beat the enemy.” Clearly, the whole notion of moral ascendancy is an after-the-fact invention. Authors, like James Sadkovich and Jack Greene have helped clarify the record regarding the performance of Italy’s navy in WWII, but the historiography remains heavily weighted on the side of the old interpretations.

Did the research for your other two books (The German Fleet at War and The U.S. Navy Against the Axis) lay the foundation for this one?

Yes. My original concept, which dates back nearly twenty years, was to write a history of all naval battles fought by surface combatants during the Second World War. Thus, elements of all three volumes were in place when Naval Institute accepted the German Fleet at War for publication in 2003. However, while German Fleet, U.S. Navy Against the Axis and Struggle share a focus on naval surface combat, they also differ in many respects. I consider Struggle for the Middle Sea to be more integrated and readable because it has a stronger narrative than its predecessors.

For this book, what were some of your more insightful sources?

The Mediterranean campaign featured strong and colorful personalities—the British Admirals Andrew Cunningham and James Somerville and the Italian Angelo Iachino come to mind. The Cunningham and Somerville papers edited by Michael Simpson and published by the Naval Records Society are outstanding for the attitudes and actions of the British admirals. Iachino’s history, Tramonto di una grande marina was helpful. Many sources play up the impact of intelligence, but F. H. Hinsley’s British Intelligence in the Second World War put this factor into perspective. The British staff histories and battle summaries—contemporary documents intended to pass along lessons learned–along with the volumes of La Marina Italiana nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale that I consulted allowed me to include considerable detail in my battle accounts. Where they were available, action reports of individual ships or commanders were invaluable. Finally, I must mention memoirs and correspondence. These don’t always get the facts right, but they deliver the spirit. For example, an Italian sailor recalled that his ship, the torpedo boat Perseo refused to sink after being wrecked by British destroyers. Her crew, floating nearby on rafts, joked that the ship’s armor, hundreds of accumulated coats of paint, was proving sound.

What advice do you have for potential naval history authors?

Every author follows their own path, but I think it all boils down to writing (not thinking about writing) and hard work. With respect to writing naval history it’s good to finish projects once started. Write for publication and know that presentation matters. New authors break into the field every year. The best pay attention to historical method and they weigh their sources.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

After seventy years people might think that the history of the Second World War has been told, but that isn’t the case. Much like the history of the American Civil War underwent a reevaluation and a new synthesis after the intense passions provoked by the war cooled down, the historiography of the Second World War is undergoing a similar process. Struggle for the Middle Sea highlights the importance of perspective in the consideration of past events. The book has provoked controversy, especially in Great Britain and Italy, and I confess to being happy about that. It indicates that some arrows struck flesh.

Click here to read my previous interview with the author regarding The U.S. Navy against the Axis.

sailor from oklahomaAnother good read this week is Floyd Brown’s Sailor from Oklahoma. The title of the book says it all and without further delay here’s is my e-interview with Mr. Beaver.

Please can you give us a short synopsis of Sailor from Oklahoma: One Man’s Two-Ocean War?

In 1939 at the age of 19, and upon finding himself unable to return for his sophomore year at the University of Tulsa—and after losing his job on the wire desk of the Tulsa Tribune to the Depression—Floyd Beaver enlisted in the Navy with the hope of entering Annapolis from the ranks. Age limits put finis to this aspiration, and he spent the twilight years of peace in four different heavy cruisers of the Hawaiian Detachment, most of these years as a member of the HAWDET and COMSCOFOR flags. (Vadms Andrews and Brown.)

With the onset of war—and after the early MARSHAL and GILBERT island actions—his Flags transferred into carriers: LEXINGTON, SARATOGA, HORNET AND ENTERPRISE in which he served through the RABAUL raid of Feb 1942, the LAE/SALAMAUA raid, the battles of CORAL SEA, SANTA CRUZ ISLANDS, and the NAVAL BATTLE OF GUADALCANAL. (Radms Fitch and Kinkaid.)

Upon the ENTERPRISE’S return to the States for repair of battledamage, he was ordered to HMNZS MOA in which he served as the only American on board from Nov 42 to May 43 in close-in support of the Guadalcanal campaign, surviving two night surface actions—in one of which he was slightly wounded—and the loss of the MOA to dive bombing attack in Tulagi Harbor. He was awarded a British MENTION IN DISPATCHES by New Zealand.

Upon return to his own Navy, he was ordered to APA FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE (APA70) In which he sailed in North Atlantic convoys from Sept1943 to Fall 1944, making the INVASION OF SOUTHERN FRANCE in her before being assigned to USS MEDEA, in which he returned to the Pacific for the Invasion of Okinawa. Hospitalization in April 1945 with a diagnosis of Tetany resulted in his return to the States and medical discharge at the end of September 1945 as “Unable to meet demands of the Service.

You served on 15 different ships in World War II. Which one was your favorite?

For comfort and all ’round satisfaction, the INDIANAPOLIS, but that may be because I was in her before she was rearranged for the war. She had the best signal bridge on which I ever served. For interest, it would have to be HMNZS MOA. Service in a foreign navy—and the opportunity for contact with native Solomon Islanders was interesting as hell.

What was it like being a signalman for flag officers?

Mixed bag. Certain privileges: choice berths for the ship in harbors, no working parties, watch-standers’ liberty, etc. Disadvantages: A lot of brass underfoot on the bridge, missed leaves, strained relations with ship’s company people sometimes. On balance, desirable.

You survived two sinkings (USS Lexington and HMNZS Moa). Any advice for others that may find themselves in a similar situation?

Rule 1: Have ship sink in smooth, warm water, and in company withfriendly vessels. (This didn’t work for the JUNEAU in WWII, but it’s still a good idea.)

Rule 2: Don’t remove shoes or other clothing.

Rule 3: Go over the weather side. Ships dead in the water tend to drift beams-on to sea and wind. Depending on hull design and weather conditions, this can result in considerable leeway which can make it hard to get away from a drifting wreck.

Rule 4: Go down lines hand-over-hand. Sliding down can take the skin off your palms.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

My nearly seven years in the Navy becomes each year a smaller proportion of my life experience, but those years far outweigh all the others. This may be due to the fact those years were war years, with all the drama and the rigor implicit in that fact, but the men I knew and the things I saw color still my view of the people I meet and the things I see happening about me. Of my Naval service, I regret only the way in which it ended, with a stigmatizing diagnosis and no chance to appeal. I thought I deserved better than that.

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