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The Man Who Spared A Wounded Hitler’s Life In WWI – And Changed The World Forever

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H/T War History OnLine.

How much of this story is fact and how much of it is just a myth?

 

The History of War will always be about that which we know for certain, that which we have reason to believe, and that which will always be lost to myth and the passage of time.

It is certain that men of war take the most inexplicable stories with them when they fall in combat.  But from time to time, a story survives and persists that while unproven, would have literally altered the course of mankind were it true.

Thankfully for us today, such a dubious story is intertwined with a historically proven recipient of the Victoria Cross.  So let us take a journey into World War I heroism and you can decide where history ends and a drastically different alternative future begins.

The Facts and Nothing but the Facts

Henry Tandey

Pte Henry Tandey Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Victoria Cross recipient Henry Tandey is a legitimate hero of war and the most highly decorated British Private of the first World War. Born in 1891 and having spent some time growing up in an orphanage, Tandey would enlist in the Green Howards Regiment of the British Army in 1910.

Before the outbreak of World War I, Tandey would serve in Guernsey and South Africa with the Green Howard’s 2nd Battalion.  When war broke out in Europe, he would immediately find himself in the action.

He participated in the Battle of Ypres in 1914 and was subsequently wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  After a recovery in the hospital, we was later assigned to 3rdBattalion in May of 1917.  He was later wounded yet again during the Battle of Passchendaele in November of that year before returning to duty in January of 1918.

And while he undoubtedly fought honorably during the prior four years, it would seem that 1918 was the year he was marked for exceptional bravery and conspicuous gallantry.

via wikipedia.org
Going Over the Top

As the war entered its final months in August of 1918, he would see action at the 2nd Battle of Cambrai where he dashed across the dreaded no man’s land of World War 1 with two others to bomb a German trench.  He came back with 20 German prisoners and was awarded the Distinguished Combat Medal as a result.

Later in September, he participated in an attack at Havrincourt where he would once again brave heavy fire to bomb German trenches and return with more prisoners.  For this action, he was awarded the Military Medal.

On September 28th, he was involved in another action at a canal near Marcoing, France when his platoon began to receive heavy machine gun fire.  Tandey took a Lewis gun team, crawled forward under the fire and took out the German position.

Once he reached the canal, he helped restore a plank bridge under intense enemy fire.  Later that night, when he and his men were surrounded by the enemy, he led a bayonet charge that freed his men and sent the enemy running into the direction of the rest of his company.

For his actions that day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and became Britain’s most decorated Private of World War 1.  And were the story to stop there, it would be enough to own its place in the halls of history.

A Wounded Hitler Walked in Front of Him

It is a documented fact that Adolf Hitler fought in World War 1 and was wounded on a couple of occasions.  With such a controversial and powerful figure who undoubtedly attempted to write his own narrative of his war experience, separating fact from fiction can be more difficult than it would seem.

But out of this historical chaos comes the inexplicable story that would have Adolf Hitler and Henry Tandey cross paths.  But more than cross paths, it would indicate that a wounded Hitler wandered in front of Tandey’s sights only for Tandey to spare the most evil man of the 20th century.

via wikipedia.org Hitler on the Far Right in WW1
Hitler on the Far Right in WW1 

As the story goes, in late 1918, after being wounded in battle, a young Hitler stumbled across the battlefield only to see a British soldier with every opportunity to kill him.  With the British soldier recognizing that the wounded man didn’t even raise his rifle, he let him pass.  The wounded Hitler waved at the British soldier and what seemed like a random act of compassion in the midst of a brutal war would be lost to history as one of the common untold stories.

As newspapers reported the historic exploits of Henry Tandey, it is reported that Adolf Hitler recognized him as the man who spared him on the battlefield on that fateful day.  Many years later as Hitler would rise to power in Germany, he came in possession of a painting that was reportedly of a Tandey carrying a wounded comrade.

When Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler in 1937 for the negotiations that led to the Munich Pact, he noticed the painting where Hitler mused that it was the man who had spared him so long ago.  He asked that Chamberlain pay his regards to Tandey and in an instant, a British Victoria Cross recipient would be forever tied to Hitler.

Myth and Fact

Further analysis of the report would prove the account unlikely.  However, the story simply will not go away and as the passage of time moves on it carries with it a more cemented place in history.  We know that Hitler served in World War 1 and was wounded on multiple occasions, the last of which was a gas attack.

The young Hitler was reportedly in a hospital recovering from his wounds when he was informed of the armistice and Germany’s surrender.

via wikipedia.org
Hitler in WWI, before he adopted his signature mustache

What is beyond a shadow of a doubt is that some British men had the opportunity to kill Hitler in World War 1 and for whatever reason, he survived. It may very well be that Hitler in his arrogance attempted to tie himself to one of Britain’s war heroes from the war by referencing Tandey.

Hitler would survive the Great War and then in a few short decades go on to set the entire world in flames. But for a well-placed shot or the random luck of an indiscriminate artillery shell, the future could have been much different.

So why is it so hard to believe that the man who spared Hitler was a British War hero?  Fact, fiction, and myth.  Perhaps the world will never fully know one of the great stories lost to the passage of time.

 

 

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The Little Known Battles of Attu And Kiska: Retaking The Only US Soil Lost During WWII

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H/T War History OnLine.

Some little known World War II history.

 

In the cold, desolate Arctic near Alaska in 1942, Japanese troops quietly invaded and took over two of the Aleutian Islands, considered to be North American soil, with barely any resistance. First, on June 6, they took nine Americans prisoner at a naval weather station on the island of Kiska, and the very next day, on the island of Attu, they captured 45 native Aleuts and an American couple from Ohio.

These two islands are so remote and barren that Attu, according to archeologists, had only a maximum of 5000 inhabitants in the several hundred years preceding its discovery by more recent Russian fur traders. Even when they arrived, one stranded Russian waited seven years before any other ship arrived and he could leave.

By the time WWII came around, the islands were sparsely inhabited, but the growing fear of Japanese in the Pacific sadly prompted American territorial authorities to move the native Aleut inhabitants to internment camps in Alaska. Of the 880 moved, 75 died in the camps due to infectious disease during the two years of internment. Sadly, it wasn’t only the evacuees that suffered. The U.S. didn’t evacuate all of the civilians from the islands – the 43 Native Aleuts and the American couple were still on Attu.

When the Japanese took the island of Kiska, they killed two men, captured seven, and one escaped – for a while. He hid in a cave, subsisted on earthworms, and lost 80 lbs. After fifty days of starvation in a frozen wasteland, Senior Petty Officer William C. House finally surrendered himself. His surviving Navy brothers had since been moved to Japan and he soon followed. They remained there for the duration of the war.

Why Did Japan Want the Aleutians?

The Aleutian Islands are very remote (1200 miles from Alaska), barren, volcanic islands that are plagued by harsh weather can change on a dime from cold, still, and dense with fog to blasting winds that can drive a person down at 100 mph. There are few if any trees and they are almost unlivable.

Japan’s interest in the Aleutians was strategic. A few years before, U.S. General Billy Mitchell had said, “I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.”

A U.S. Navy reconnaissance photo of four Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2N Rufe seaplane fighters at Holtz Bay, Attu on 7 November 1942.
A U.S. Navy reconnaissance photo of four Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2N Rufe seaplane fighters at Holtz Bay, Attu on 7 November 1942.

 

The Aleutians aren’t exactly Alaska, but Imperial Japan’s General Higuchi Kiichiro had a similar notion. He believed that if he controlled the Aleutians, Kiska and Attu specifically, he would control Northern Pacific sea routes. He wanted to prevent offensive attacks on Japan, separate and create a boundary between Russia and the U.S. (just in case Russia decided to gang up with the Americans and together attack the Japanese), and to create air bases from which to make offensive attacks.

Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska after landing on 6 June 1942.
Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska after landing on 6 June 1942.

 

Taking the Islands

The Japanese, under the command of Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki, arrived in Kiska on June 6, 1942.

They easily took the island, and the next day began invading Attu as well.  The prisoners they took there were transported to a prison camp at Otaru, Hokkaido, where sixteen of them would die.

The soldiers, who would eventually number 2300-2500, were from Northern Japan and were accustomed to the cold and wind and had little difficulty working in Aleutian conditions.

Attu_photo_with_battle_descriptions_1943

 

From June to September the initial occupation numbering 500 or so Japanese soldiers was growing and preparations were being made. From September to October, the Japanese moved all operations to Kiska, leaving Attu undefended, but the Americans weren’t positioned to take the opportunity to act.

At the end of October, the Japanese returned to Attu under the command of Lt. Col. Hiroshi Yanekawa who established a base at Holtz Bay, where they remained undisturbed by Allied forces for 11 months.

Why Didn’t the U.S. Respond?

Part of the huge U.S. fleet at anchor, ready to move against Kiska.
Part of the huge U.S. fleet at anchor, ready to move against Kiska.

The Japanese attacks on Kiska and Attu occurred just six months after their attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. forces were still reacting to the devastation and were trying to build up defenses in the Southern Pacific while simultaneously dealing with the European conflicts.

The U.S. did fly from other nearby Aleutian Islands to conduct minor bombing raids, but they didn’t have the ability to bring in ground troops until their victory in March of 1943 in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands in the Bering Sea.

That battle opened the sea lanes enough to finally respond to the Japanese invasion of Kiska and Attu.

Operation Landgrab

Attu_landing_craft_on_beach_1943

Two months after Komandorski, the U.S. was ready to act. The Japanese had had limited supplies brought in – and only by submarine – once the sea lanes had been cut off. Still, the Japanese had knowledge of and acclimation to the island on their side. They may have been somewhat prepared, but they only numbered 2300 – certainly no advantage there.

Major General Albert Brown and 11,000 17th Infantry soldiers initiate Operation Landgrab on May 11, 1943. They landed at the north and south ends of Attu and had to make their way to Yamasaki’s position on the high ground that was further inland.

They faced little human opposition, but the island proved a formidable foe. This wasn’t a simple march to the inner parts of the island. The Americans were searching every nook and cranny for their enemy, and they were doing it in the snow, wind, and wet and they were not clothed for it. Neither did they have the equipment they needed for such a search. The powers that be thought this would be a simple in and out sort of mission and, thusly, didn’t take those precautions. They didn’t even bring enough food.

Many soldiers began to suffer from trench foot and gangrene and they were losing morale and physical strength due to extreme cold and hunger. When they did find Japanese soldiers, they were forced to fight the hardier men in intense small battles. The enemy soldiers lived by the Bushido Code, Way of the Warrior that forbid surrender and added to their fierceness in battle. They were warmer, better fed, and had more drive to fight.

Hauling_supplies_on_Attu
American troops hauling supplies on Attu in May 1943 through Jarmin pass. Their vehicles could not move across the island’s rugged terrain.

Still, it was the weather that was the biggest threat with driving winds, drenching rain showers, and freezing temperatures, causing more U.S. soldiers to suffer casualties from cold than from battle.

Somehow the bedraggled American troops were able to push the Japanese to Chichagof Harbor where they hid in caves or underground dugouts. The U.S. had the upper hand, and higher numbers and fortunes were looking poor for Yamasaki and his men.

The Japanese commander, to go forth in honor, decided to risk an attack on the U.S. His plan was to charge on the Americans, take their artillery, and then return to the cliff side hideaways and caves. They would then wait it out until the Imperial Army sent backup.

He launched his banzai charge in the early morning light of May 29th, to the shock of American troops – all the way through the posts to the rear of the American camp – hand to hand combat all the way. Once the Americans began using firepower, the Japanese had no chance, and those that had survived to make it nearly to the end began to commit suicide – many by grenade. A doctor from the field hospital had killed his patients, so they were gone too. He wrote in his diary, “The last assault is to be carried out.… I am only 33 years old and I am to die…. I took care of all patients with a grenade.”

A few very small groups of Japanese continued to fight until July, refusing to give up. Fewer than 30 survived to be taken prisoner. Around 1,000 of the 15,000 U.S. troops were killed.

A map of the Bering Sea region.
A map of the Bering Sea region.

Meanwhile, on Kiska, the Japanese holding that island heard of the mass suicide on Attu. When Americans arrived in August – better equipped with airplanes and Canadian bomber assistance – the bombs they dropped and in 95 ships they stormed Kiska with over 34,000 American and Canadian troops to take out the 5200 Japanese they expected to be there.

But the Japanese had left in July in a hurry with freshly brewed coffee still sitting in cups on the base.

Even though there was no enemy to fight, 200 Allied soldiers died in this non-battle. Some were victims of friendly fire, and others had unfortunate run-ins with booby traps and live ordnance.

What’s Left

Troops march up the beach at Adak Island, during pre-invasion loading for the Kiska Operation, 13 August 1943. The LCM behind the soldiers is from USS Zeilin (APA-3). USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) is in the far right distance. Note the troops' packs and M1 rifles.
Troops march up the beach at Adak Island, during pre-invasion loading for the Kiska Operation, 13 August 1943. The LCM behind the soldiers is from USS Zeilin (APA-3). USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) is in the far right distance. Note the troops’ packs and M1 rifles.

Seventy years later, both islands are like portals in time. Indentations from Allied tents can still be seen on the ground; cups of coffee are still there, and more than coke bottles litter the ground. The military occasionally makes an effort to remove live artillery and unexploded bombs from the island, but that task isn’t finished.

Archeologists and war historians are making an effort to study the sites because they are the only untouched battlefields that have been preserved completely. Because of the arctic conditions, decay is slow or non-existent, giving researchers a window into the past.

When He Was Awarded the Medal of Honor For Bravery, The US Locked His Japanese Parents Up In An Internment Camp

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P.Private George “Joe” Taro Sakato February 19,1921-December 2, 2005.

 

George “Joe” Taro Sakato is a second-generation-born American of Japanese descent, which was why his family had to relocate during WWII. Despite this, he joined the US military which was how he helped to save a battalion of Texans. This earned him the Medal of Honor – America’s highest military award for valor.

It all started when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Besides racism against Asians, that attack gave many an excuse to eliminate competition from Japanese-American farmers and businessmen, especially on the West Coast.

Calls were made to expel or incarcerate all Japanese on US soil, even those who were American citizens. Since Japanese-Americans were quite populous in some states, however (especially Hawaii), not all agreed, so the policy didn’t become nationwide.

This photo of Executive Order 9066, also called the Exclusion Order, was taken on First and Front Streets in San Francisco, California on 11 April 1942
This photo of Executive Order 9066, also called the Exclusion Order, was taken on First and Front Streets in San Francisco, California on 11 April 1942

Sakato was born in Colton, California in 1921, so his family had a choice – leave or go to a camp. They moved to Arizona. Even though that state also called for the expulsion of all Japanese, it did set up government camps where they could live under military supervision.

With the mood in America fiercely anti-German and anti-Japanese, nowhere was safe for them. While those of German descent could blend in, the Sakato family could not. By living in a camp, they could, at least, avoid being lynched or worse.

A picture of the Mochida family awaiting relocation, taken on 8 May 1942
A picture of the Mochida family awaiting relocation, taken on 8 May 1942

Even the Japanese who served in the National Guard and the military fell under suspicion and were discharged. As the US had entered the war, however, this was not practical, so those who were part of the Hawaii Territorial Guard were reformed into the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).

They did so well in training that the government decided to expand their numbers. But first they had to pass a loyalty test. They were asked if they would serve the US wherever they were sent to and if they would forswear any loyalties to the Japanese emperor.

Since all were second and third generation born, they were offended by these questions. They knew no other home and felt no loyalty to any other government. Some protested the camps while others refused to answer. These were imprisoned on the charge of “evading the draft.”

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Company F, 2nd Battalion near the St. Die Area in France on 13 November 1944
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Company F, 2nd Battalion near the St. Die Area in France on 13 November 1944

About 75% said “yes” to both questions, however, and were allowed to serve – but never in the Pacific. In 1944, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was created, also made up of Japanese-Americans. In March of that year, Sakato joined them.

The 442nd got reunited with the 100th on 26 June 1944 when they liberated the Italian town of Belvedere. By July 1, the 442nd took Cecina and later took part in the Southern France Campaign from August 15 to September 14, earning their second Presidential Unit Citation.

By September 30, they were in the Rhone Valley making their way toward the hill town of Bruyères in northeastern France. Hitler had given a no-retreat no-surrender order since the German border was the next stop. After being joined by several other Allied battalions, Bruyères was finally taken on October 20.

The 442nd in training: building then attacking across a pontoon bridge at Camp Shelby.
The 442nd in training: building then attacking across a pontoon bridge at Camp Shelby.

The 442nd and the 100th were then sent to Biffontaine. Before they got there, however, the former were ordered east. It was there in the Vosges Mountains that Sakato entered history.

It all began when the Texas National Guard became the 141st Infantry Division under Major General John E. Dahlquist. His superiors thought it a bad idea to try breaking through the German defenses, but Dahlquist thought otherwise, so he ordered his men to attack on October 24.

 

General John Ernext Dahlquist
General John Dahlquist

As a result, the “Texas Battalion” was trapped by the German 244th and 716th Infantry Divisions. The US 36th Division sent two battalions to rescue them, but failed, so the 405thFighter Squadron had to airdrop supplies to the 275 trapped men who were collectively called the “Lost Battalion.”

They were so lost, in fact, that even the Germans didn’t realize they had trapped an entire unit. They only found out when the aerial resupply began, since some of the supplies fell among them (a welcome respite since they were running low on supplies).

The 442nd arrived on October 27 at 4 AM. With support from the 522nd and the 133rd Field Artillery units, they began their attack, but couldn’t penetrate the German line. Things were made worse by the dense fog and very dark nights that limited visibility and prevented further resupply flights from coming through.

Private Saburo Tanamachi
Private Saburo Tanamachi

The 442nd continued into the German line of fire, knowing they were being used as cannon fodder (and for which Dahlquist would later be criticized for). By October 29, Sakato’s group managed to clear a German strongpoint, but no sooner had they done that than German artillery began firing at them.

He jumped into the ditch and was joined by Private Saburo Tanamachi, an old friend from Arizona who had been interred with his family. While the bombardment continued, the two got reacquainted, desperately trying to block out the horrors around them. They’d been together at Bruyères, but hadn’t had a chance to talk.

In a 2011 interview with Densho Oral History, Sakato explained how magical that reunion was. It not only reminded him of home, but it also reminded him of how things were like before their expulsions began. But as they talked, some Germans reached the hill above them.

The 442nd near Bruyères. At far left is Tanamachi, followed by Sakato.
The 442nd near Bruyères. At far left is Tanamachi, followed by Sakato.

Sakato noticed and yelled, “Watch out! They’ve taken the hill back!”

Tanamachi stood up, “Where!?”

And got shot through the neck.

“Why the hell did you do that!?” Sakato raged as he cradled the man in his arms. “Why!?”

Tanamachi tried to reply, but blood came out of his mouth before he went still.

Members of the "Lost Battalion" posing with some of the 442nd
Members of the “Lost Battalion” posing with some of the 442nd

Sakato continued to rage at his friend until incoming fire brought him back to reality. Grabbing a Thompson submachine gun, he ran up the hill in zigzags as a group of Germans continued to fire back at him. They all missed.

Sakato, on the other hand, killed five Germans, forcing the remaining four to surrender.  While his platoon was reorganizing, he proved to be the inspiration of his squad in halting a counter-attack on the left flank during which his squad leader was killed. Taking charge of the squad, he continued his relentless tactics, using an enemy rifle and P-38 pistol to stop an organized enemy attack.

Sakato in 2009.
Sakato in 2009.

In the aftermath, 34 Germans surrendered, while 211 Texans were rescued at the cost of over 800 Japanese-American casualties.

Texas only repealed the Jim Crow laws in 1964, ending the rest of its separatist statutes in 1969. Despite this, the surviving members of the 442nd, including Sakato, were made “honorary Texans” in 1962.

Sakato was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on 29 October 1944, but it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor on 21 June 2000.

 

 

 

 

Crazy French Count Blew Up German Factory With Baguettes Filled With Explosives

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H/T War History OnLine.

 Count Robert Jean-Marie de La Rochefoucauld was crazy like a fox.   

 

 

               

In 1938, 15-year-old Count Robert Jean-Marie de La Rochefoucauld went to pay Hitler a visit in Bavaria. The German Chancellor gave Rochefoucauld a friendly pat on the cheek, something the teenager would repay by trying to bring down the Third Reich. For his actions, Rochefoucauld would be caught and sentenced to die. Thrice.

Two years after that visit, Germany invaded France. Since the Rochefoucaulds were nobles, Robert’s father was arrested because he refused to cooperate with the new government. This turned Robert into a fan of Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces in Britain, so he started agitating against the occupation. Not a smart move.

Thankfully, the French Resistance had rescued two downed British RAF pilots and needed to slip them into Spain. Rochefoucauld joined them.

Unfortunately, officially neutral Spain was unofficially pro-Germany, which was why the trio ended up in prison. Not wanting to annoy Britain too much, the Spanish negotiated the release of the British airmen, as well as Rochefoucauld, who pretended to be British.

His timing was perfect. Winston Churchill had just set up the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an organization he hoped would “set Europe ablaze.” There was a problem, however. According to Samuel Hoare, the British Ambassador to Spain, although the “courage and skill of British agents is without equal… their French accents are appalling.”

So Rochefoucauld was sent to Arisaig, Scotland to learn hand-to-hand combat. He was then sent to the RAF Ringway near Manchester to learn parachute jumping. His last stop was at the SOE’s finishing school at Lord Montague’s estate. It was there that he learned espionage, sabotage, reconnaissance, and explosives.

In June 1943, he was parachuted back into France’s Morvan region where he met up with the local resistance. The group managed to blow up a railroad line that served the town of Avallon, as well as an electrical substation.

He then made his way to the extraction point to be flown back to Britain, but it was not to be. The Germans also had informants among the French, one of whom ratted Rochefoucauld out. He was arrested by the SS and interrogated by the Gestapo – which never turned out well. Rochefoucauld was sentenced to death.

An SOE demolitions class held in Milton Hall
An SOE demolitions class held in Milton Hall

 

Fortunately, they decided not to shoot him right there. They wanted to make a public spectacle of his death, so they drove him back to town in a truck. As they did so, he jumped out the back.

The soldiers fired, but he dodged their bullets, running straight through the trees and back into town. Diving into some side streets, he actually made his way to the Gestapo headquarters, the very spot his captors were driving him to.

Parked outside was an open-air limousine sporting a flag with a swastika on it, complete with keys in the ignition. Given the circumstances, no one would dare steal a limo belonging to the Nazis, so its driver didn’t even bother pocketing the keys before leaving it behind.

Jumping in, Rochefoucauld drove to the nearest train station, ditched the car, and made his way to Paris. But not in the style of a French aristocrat. He couldn’t buy a ticket, so he hid in one of the toilets.

Back in Paris, he found shelter with the resistance, who got him to Calais. There he caught a fishing boat that got him aboard a submarine that returned him to Britain.

In May 1944, Rochefoucauld was parachuted back into the Bordeaux to destroy German defenses in preparation for the D-Day Landings. His target, this time, was the Saint-Médard munitions plant.

Dressing himself up as an employee, he took some baguettes, hollowed them out, and stuck 90 pounds of military-grade explosives inside. On the evening of May 20, he placed those loaves around the building’s structural supports, set their timers, then rode off in a bicycle.

The bombs went off at 7:30 PM and the explosions were so loud they could be heard from ten miles away. He then reported his success back to London, and they replied, “Félicitations” (congratulations).

He celebrated over several bottles of wine with Roger Landes, a French-speaking British citizen. Despite a hangover the next morning, he bicycled to the extraction point, which was when he was caught yet again at a German checkpoint.

Since the Gestapo already knew about him, they decided that a simple firing squad wouldn’t be enough. This time, Rochefoucauld would be tortured to death.

Finding himself in the Fort du Hâ, Rochefoucauld considered his options. The SOE had given him one final weapon – the “L-Tablet.” A cyanide pill, his handlers promised it would kill him within 15 seconds.

Fort du Hâ in Bordeaux
Fort du Hâ in Bordeaux

Loud, gargling noises alerted the guard outside. He looked in and saw Rochefoucauld having an epileptic fit. The Gestapo wanted the man tortured and were not the type who liked being deprived of their sport.

So the guard panicked, opened the door and ran in… only to be brained by a table leg. Rochefoucauld snapped the man’s neck, then put on his uniform. Walking into the main office, he shot the other two guards then calmly walked out.

He got in touch with another member of the French resistance whose sister was a nun. Fortunately, she wasn’t prudish, which was how Rochefoucauld made it to a safe house. He had simply walked there dressed as a nun.

Rochefoucauld stayed in France and fought side by side with the resistance, continuing his acts of sabotage. He was again caught during one of these campaigns in February 1945 and sentenced to die by firing squad. On the day of the execution, however, the resistance gunned down his captors and rescued him.

The count’s last action took place in April when he led an attack on a German bunker near Saint-Vivien-de-Médoc. Paddling his way over the river, he shot a guard and blew up the bunker, forcing the Germans to retreat to Verdon. Shortly afterward, his knee was injured in a mine explosion, forcing him to take a month’s leave.

After the war, Rochefoucauld made his way to Berlin where he was personally thanked by Soviet Army Officer Georgy Zhukov, who kissed him on the mouth. For a Frenchman, even that was probably too much.

Controversies

Neither Robert de la Rochefoucauld nor his missions to France appear in the official history SOE in France, first published in 1966. His name has yet to be traced in the SOE archives, held at The National Archives (United Kingdom). Moreover, a number of incidents described in La Rochefoucauld’s autobiography are contradicted by other evidence.

For example, although he claims to have sabotaged the explosives works at St-Médard-en-Jalles in May 1944, this target had already been successfully attacked by RAF Bomber Command three weeks earlier, on the night of 29/30 April. A report in The Times on 1 May described the raid’s “unusually spectacular results”, and how “colossal” explosions were heard half an hour after the bombing attack had finished.

Evaluating the results shortly afterwards, an RAF photo-reconnaissance report confirmed that the target had been “heavily damaged”: six large warehouse buildings had been wiped out; at least half of the smaller buildings were damaged or destroyed; the railway line into the plant had been “severed by direct hits at many points”; and three 90-foot craters were visible from the air.

Such an important, large-scale demolition would have ranked at the top of SOE’s achievements, but SOE’s detailed report on its activities in France, written by June 1946 by an officer who had an intimate knowledge of its operations, makes no mention of La Rochefoucauld or any attack resembling that of St-Médard-en-Jalles. Neither is there a trace of this operation in SOE’s extensive examination of its own sabotage work, which was undertaken across France in 1945.

La Rochefoucauld also claims he was exfiltrated by submarine off the coast of Berck near Calais at the end of February 1944, yet according to official sources SOE conducted no sea operations east of Brittany during this period.

On the subject of his recruitment, La Rochefoucauld mentions that Eric Piquet-Wicks – deputy for SOE’s RF Section at the time – had spotted his potential in Spain in late 1942, but Piquet-Wicks did not arrive in Spain until the spring of 1944, when he took up a more junior role in Madrid after recovering from tuberculosis. A file on La Rochefoucauld held at the Service historique de la défense archives at Vincennes raises a further question mark: in an application to the French Forces of the Interior for recognition of his resistance activity, his record of service indicates that he did not travel to Spain or England or join SOE or any other secret service.

However, the fact that there is no archival or written record of his role as an SOE agent could well be attributed to the loss of a significant number of SOE files in a disastrous fire which took place in 1946.

MoH & NFL Legend: “I saw him throw approximately 10 to 12 grenades, with German automatic fire and grenades coming back all the time.”

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H/T War  History OnLine.

R.I.P.Captain Maurice Lee “Footsie” Britt June 29,1919-November 26,1995.

The world of sports is often said to serve as but a shadow or reflection of war.  There are physical rigors, stressful scenarios, and often the need to pit man against man in a battle for victory.  But occasionally, that shadow meets reality, and an athlete excels not only in the field of sport but the field of battle.

Such was the case for a man Arkansas is proud to claim as one of their own, Maurice “Footsie” Britt.  Known for his size 13 shoes which partially led to the nickname “Footsie” growing up, Britt was a physically dominating man who would take his athletic ability from High School to the University of Arkansas, to the Detroit Lions, and all the way to Italy in World War 2.

And while he might have played wide receiver in the NFL, if you had asked the Germans they would have thought he was a Quarterback from the way he relentlessly hurled grenades at them on his path to receiving the Medal of Honor and just about every other award for gallantry one could fit on a uniform.

An Arkansas Legend

Maurice Britt was born in Carlisle, Arkansas in 1919.  From the first time he set foot on the field, his athletic prowess became apparent, and he excelled at any sport he attempted.  But he was more than just an athlete. This gifted man would become the valedictorian of Lonoke High School in 1937 on his way to an athletic scholarship in both football and basketball for the University of Arkansas.

While in college, he participated in the Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. Upon graduation in 1941 was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry.

However, the gifted Britt had eyes on the gridiron and in 1941 went on to play wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.   He had received a partial deferment for active duty to finish the 1941 season. When that was up, he joined Company L, 3rd Battalion 30th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division.

In October of 1942, the division set out for North Africa and the subsequent invasion of Morocco that would serve as the kickoff for this gifted athlete’s career in the field of battle. Serving as a platoon leader for L Company, Britt landed at Casablanca on November 8th, 1942 and fought the half-hearted French resistance, quickly taking Fort Blondin.

After the brief campaign in Casablanca, Britt’s regiment was assigned to serve as the personal bodyguards for Churchill and Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference in early 1943.  Later in the year, the 3rd Division began training and preparations for the invasion of Sicily.

Once he landed ashore in Sicily in July of 1943, the next 5 months would see continuous action for Britt and the men of the 3rd Division.  He participated in what would be one of the longest foot marches of the war covering over 54 miles in just 33 hours to take Palermo.

During the campaign to take Sicily, Britt established himself as a capable and highly respected leader of men.

A Trek Through Italy

By September, Britt and the 3rd Division were storming the beaches of Salerno in what would be his third amphibious landing.  During action outside of Salerno, Britt led an assault on an enemy machine gun position and went on to receive the silver star for his leadership and gallantry in the face of the enemy and one of his four Purple Hearts.

However, it would seem that awards for gallantry would come as naturally to him as a touchdown on the football field.  In October of 1943, he led his men in a river crossing of the Volturno River and engaged the heavily entrenched enemy.  Here, he would receive the Bronze Star Medal with a “V.”  Yet, it would be action in central Italy near Mignano that would earn him the nation’s highest military honor.

On November 10th, a German attack threatened the battalion’s position.  Seizing the initiative, Britt took a company of men and led a counterattack straight into the face of 100 battle hardened German soldiers.

The fighting was up close and very intense, involving small-arms, machine guns, and as many grenades as they could get their hands on. During the intense fighting, Britt took a bullet wound to the side, and his body was littered with grenade fragmentation.

US Infantry Pushing through Italy via commons.wikimedia.org
US Infantry Pushing through Italy

Britt refused medical evacuation and was personally credited with killing 5 German soldiers and wiping out an enemy machine gun crew.  Despite his wounds, he threw over 32 fragmentation grenades at the enemy with the strength and speed of an elite NFL player.

His aggressive actions were credited with saving the battalion position and the men of his company.  For his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor and recognized for inexplicable gallantry.

Not Done Yet

After recovering from his wounds, Britt had a little more fight left in him when he took part in the invasion of Anzio in January of 1944. He continued his legacy of aggressive action in the face of enemy fire and was reported to have even gotten a German gun position to reveal its location by completing calisthenics right in front of them to give them a target.

In February, his war would come to end when an artillery shell landed nearby leading to the partial amputation of one of his arms. Britt returned home with any hopes of a post-war football career dashed, but as a local Arkansas legend who made the entire nation proud.

For his actions at Anzio, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism. He came home from the war with the complete set of the top 4 military honors available to him.

After the war, Britt would engage in a career of business and politics going on to become a two-time Lieutenant Governor of the State of Arkansas.

He passed away in 1995 at the age of 76 and laid in state at the Arkansas Capitol as a football star, war hero, and beloved man of the State of Arkansas.

Before the Tank, Many Different Weird Armed Fighting Vehicles Were Developed

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H/T War History OnLine.

F.R. Simms’ Motor Scout, built in 1898 as an armed car

The arrival of the tank was a significant development of WWI. The first successful purpose-built fighting vehicle, they added a devastating new element to warfare and had a far reaching effect.

They were not the first fighting vehicles. Previous attempts had been made, often ineffectual, to provide a role for vehicles in war.

Leonardo’s War Machines

In Europe, before the 19th century, there had been a few attempts to develop military vehicles beyond chariots. In the 15th-century during the Hussite Revolt, wagons were turned into mobile fortresses, providing shelter for cannons and men. Later that century, Leonardo da Vinci drew sketches of machines that included an armored vehicle loaded with guns.

Leonardo’s ideas were not practical at the time, and the Hussite war wagons were limited in their use. It was not until the arrival of motor power that practical fighting vehicles were designed.

Transport and Haulage

In the second half of the 19th century, armies began using steam and then internal combustion engines for transport and haulage. Trains were used to move troops around. A few early motor vehicles were utilized to drag artillery and supplies. Their use, however, was limited. Horses were widely available and could reliably get to where they were needed, but the seed had been sewn for combining motor vehicles with war.

Machine-Guns on Wheels

The first attempt to create fighting vehicles involved putting machine-guns, another new development, onto wheels.

In 1898, F. R. Simms, a British motor enthusiast, demonstrated his quadricycle. It was a Maxim machine-gun mounted on a small chassis with four wheels and a motor engine. It was not very practical, as it could not cope with any awkward terrain, but the publicity around it inspired others.

F.R. Simms’ Motor Scout, built in 1898.

Early Fighting Cars

The result was a spate of “war cars.”

In America, Major R. P. Davidson designed a three-wheeled vehicle carrying a Colt machine-gun which was built by the Charles P. Duryea Company. It had a crew of three, enabling the gun to be fired while the vehicle was moving. The gun could be removed, allowing the vehicle to retreat during combat.

Davidson also experimented with a steam-powered car, as did a Russian engineer by the name of Lutski, but they did not gain the support of military authorities.

Fighting Bathtubs

Early on, the idea of adding armored protection was proposed. In 1896, E. J Pennington suggested a bathtub-style open-topped armored body attached to a war car, above which, two mounts held Maxim machine-guns. It never entered production.

Six years later, F. R. Simms put forward a similar design. His featured two machine-guns, a one-pounder gun, and five crew. He demonstrated the vehicle at motor shows but could not get people interested in it.

The Charron Armoured Car

The Russians turned to the French company Charron Girardot et Voight to create an armored fighting vehicle. What they produced became the template for the armored cars that followed.

The Charron had a structure of armor plating to protect the crew. A revolving turret on the roof allowed a Maxim machine-gun to fire in whatever direction was needed. It carried steel girders on the sides, which could be removed and used for crossing ditches.

The Charron Armored Car

The first Charron car was delivered to the Russians in 1904. They used it for riot control in St. Petersburg. After that, something changed their minds, and they canceled their order for 34 cars. The French army bought the only other completed one. No more Charron cars were made.

The Austro-Daimler

Inspired by the Charron car, the Austro-Daimler company created their own car. It had a similar design, with an armored body, slit windows for the driver, and a turret on the roof, with a Skoda machine-gun. One innovation it had was that the driver could raise his seat, so his head appeared through the roof, giving him better all-around vision. The car had a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour.

Despite some success in military maneuvers in 1905-6, the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army decided against ordering any.

Motor Balloon Guns

The rise of air power, in the form of balloons and dirigibles, led to the next innovation in military vehicles. At the Frankfurt International Exhibition of 1909, two leading gun manufacturers, Krupp and Rheinische Metalwaren und Maschinenfabrik, displayed what was referred to as “motor balloon guns.”

They were relatively simple designs. Guns were mounted on trucks then elevated so they could fire into the sky. It allowed them to be moved around quickly, to fire at enemy aircraft and proved a vehicle could carry something heavier than a machine-gun.

Resistance and Reason

All the different designs faced a serious problem – the resistance of the military establishment to innovation.

It was partly a matter of habit. Any large institution tends to become entrenched. Change is difficult, and the leaders and commanders had weapons they knew worked. Why go through the struggle of adopting something new?

There was also some sound reasoning. Motor vehicles of the time could not cope with the varied and often challenging terrain over which wars were fought. When taken off-road, they were rendered useless. Horses, on the other hand, remained capable of transporting men and weapons wherever they were needed.

Not Getting on Track

The answer was tracked vehicles. In the years just before WWI, the Austrian Lieutenant Gunther Burstyn and the Australian engineer L. A. de Mole tried to interest their governments in using tracked vehicles. Their ideas failed to break through the shell of habitual thinking.

While many fighting vehicles were designed before WWI, it was the necessities of war that created one that worked.

Source:

Ian V. Hogg and John Weeks (1980), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles

 

Started out as a Biplane: The Grumman F4F Wildcat One Of The Most Valuable American Fighter Planes Of WW2

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H/T War History OnLine.

The history of the Grumman F4F Wildcat.

Grumman F4F Wildcat

 

Despite its slightly odd origins, the Grumman F4F Wildcat was one of the most valuable fighter planes in the US arsenal of WWII.

The Biplane That Became a Monoplane

The design for the Wildcat started out as a biplane, as they were still around for many years between the world wars. It was redesigned as a monoplane in 1936, but retained many of the features of its previous design, giving the Wildcat its distinctive, slightly squat look.

Riveted Fuselage

Another of the Wildcat’s visually distinctive features was its entirely riveted fuselage. It gave it an industrial look that was at odds with the canvas-covered planes of WWI. Welded or flattened rivets were beginning to be used to make the planes of the 1930s and 40s more aerodynamic.

A Navy Plane

The Wildcat was designed and commissioned as a carrier-borne fighter. The relatively new and distinctive use of aircraft carriers was increasingly important, as the world’s most powerful militaries started to use air power for victory at sea. The limited space available for taking off and landing and storage of planes on ships created new design challenges. It meant a different sort of fighter was needed at sea.

First Bought by the French

Although the Wildcat would become a symbol of American air power, it was first purchased by the French, who placed an order in early 1939.

Commissioned by the US Navy

Later that year, the US Navy followed suit. In August 1939, they placed their first order for F4Fs with Grumman.

XF4F-3 prototype Wildcat in flight, 21 July 1939.

 

Diverted to Britain

With the fall of France, the F4Fs destined to join the French Navy were diverted to Britain reaching Britain’s Fleet Air Arm in July 1940.

Also Known as the Martlet

Like the Curtiss P-40, the F4F was given different nicknames by the British and Americans. Most people remember it by its more dynamic American name, the Wildcat. Initially known to the British as the Martlet, in January 1944, they too adopted the Wildcat name.

A Heavy Hitter

The F4F packed quite a punch due to its extensive arsenal. It carried six machine-guns in its wings and could also carry two bombs or six rockets. Its firepower made it popular with the crews flying it.

Tricky to Fly

Less popular with pilots was the F4F’s handling. It was considered a tricky fighter to control both on the ground and in the air. For the pilot who could master it, the F4F was well worth the effort, as it was very maneuverable, a vital asset in the fast-moving action of dog fights.

One of the main features of the F4F-4 were the Sto-Wing-design folding wings, a Grumman patented design.

 

Speed

The F4F had a maximum speed of 332 miles per hour. It was not one of the fastest planes of the war, but neither was it the slowest.

Heights

The F4F could fly to around 34,700 feet, climbing at 2,000 feet per minute toward its top altitude.

A Tough Plane

The F4F was a tough plane to bring down. It had a self-sealing fuel tank and armor plating that gave it greater endurance than many of its opponents.

The self-sealing tank was particularly crucial to the survival of a plane. Without it, a bullet through the fuel tank could turn it into a fireball or force a plane to crash due to lack of fuel. Self-sealing meant that it took a cannon shot to inflict such devastation.

Wildcat of VF-6 testing out machine guns aboard USS Enterprise, 10 April 1942.

 

First British Service

The first Martlets in British service joined No.804 Squadron in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. They were used to control routes from the North Sea to the Atlantic. In December 1940, two Martlets shot down a German plane, making them the first American-built, British-piloted aircraft to do so in WWII.

Going to Sea

The first F4Fs to go to sea in wartime were Martlets of No.802 Squadron. Operating from on board HMS Audacity on September 20, 1941, they shot down a German Focke-Wolf 200 which was following their convoy.

Martlet fighters on the flight deck of HMS Formidable, 1940s.

Action in the Mediterranean and Africa

The F4F was involved in the extensive action in and around the Mediterranean. The Royal Naval Fighter Unit deployed Martlets over the Western Desert in Africa, where they fought Italian planes in the fall of 1941. They tangled with the Italians again in August the following year while escorting supply ships around Malta.

Further south, Martlets fought against Vichy French planes over Madagascar in May 1942.

The Choice of the US Navy

By the time America joined the war in December 1941, the F4F was the most common plane on American aircraft carriers. It was also popular among US Marine Corps units based on land. Until the arrival of the Hellcat in 1943, it was the US Navy’s only carrier-borne fighter. It played a critical role in many of the Navy’s most important actions.

Guadalcanal

One of the most important land bases that Wildcats operated from was Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The site of the first offensive operations of America’s Pacific war, it was where many Wildcat successes occurred. One eight-plane flight achieved 72 aerial victories in the space of only 16 weeks.

Captain Joe Foss, Wildcat Ace

The leader of the group, Captain Joe Foss, was one of the most successful pilots ever to get behind the controls of a Wildcat. During the fighting at Guadalcanal, he destroyed 26 Japanese planes, five of them in one day. For his remarkable achievements, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Watercolor of U.S. Marine Captain Joe Foss shooting down a Zero over Guadalcanal in October 1942.

Phasing Out

Despite its many successes, the Wildcat struggled against Japanese Zeros. The US Navy phased it out in favor of the F6F Hellcat in 1943.

Last Action

The last Wildcat victory of the war took place over Norway in March 1945. Wildcats of the British No.822 Squadron shot down four German Messerschmitt Bf109s.

Source:
Francis Crosby (2010), The Complete Guide to Fighters & Bombers of the World

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