In May 2008 when I discovered that over 17,000 Guernsey evacuees had arrived in England in June 1940, just before the Nazis invaded their island, I was astounded! I knew that the Channel Islands had been occupied but had no idea that almost half the population had come to mainland Britain. I was equally amazed that the majority had been sent to industrial towns in northern England from which local children had been evacuated 9 months earlier.
As I began to interview Guernsey evacuees, most said they had never been asked to share their story before. I now realised that their experiences in England during the Second World War had not been fully captured. I discovered that the evacuees had integrated into their local communities, but also set up around 100 Channel Island societies. In addition, they had contributed to the British war effort by joining the forces, working in ammunition factories and building aircraft. Others had joined the Home Guard, the ATS and the Fire Service. Hundreds of young Guernsey mothers had arrived with their infants, whilst their husbands joined the forces or remained in Guernsey to protect their property. These mothers had arrived in England with practically nothing, and although some adults, as well as children, had unhappy experiences, the majority described the kindness of their English neighbours. Eva Le Page told me “I left Guernsey with my baby, and a bag containing feeding bottles and nappies. I will never forget the kindness of my neighbours when I moved into an empty house in Bolton. When they helped you, they did it with good hearts.” One Lancashire resident, John Fletcher, collected money throughout the war so that the Guernsey children in his area could receive a Christmas gift. They received nothing from their own parents as there was no postal service between Guernsey and England during the war except for the occasional 25 word Red Cross letter.
A New Jersey lawyer who privately financed a group to search for a German U-Boat off the coast of Nantucket Island finally saw his dream come true. On July 23, 2012 the crew, using a side-scan sonar ship, spotted the 252 foot German submarine U-550, 70 miles south of the island. After scanning 100 square miles of ocean floor the actual wreck site turned out to be further offshore than what they expected.
Like many U-Boats during World War II, U-550 was used to harass and shut down the convoys that were essential to keep the Allied powers strong in Europe. This particular U-Boat was sunk while it was on its first combat patrol. It had spotted convoy CU-21 from New York to Great Britain. The Allied convoy was protecting the SS Pan Pennsylvania, which held 140,000 barrels of 80-octane aviation fuel. U-550 torpedoed the tanker which obviously caught fire, and killed 25 of the 81 men on board.
While the Pennsylvania was settling, getting ready to capsize, U-550 tried to hide underneath the sinking ship. Three of the convoy’s destroyer escorts went to rescue the surviving tanker’s crew.
When one of the destroyers, the Joyce, was leaving, its sonar picked up U-550 which was leaving its hiding spot. The Joyce then dropped 13 depth charges which bracketed the U-boat, and forced them to surface.
Beginning in 1939, with the Russian victory over Japan at Khalkin-Gol, and going through the dropping of the atomic bombs and occupation of Japan, “The Second World War” by Antony Beevor is an account of World War II like no other. Whether you are an amateur or professional historian, I guarantee you will learn something new by reading this book. Antony Beevor, being of British Nationality, writes without the American bias, and gives an unfiltered account of the war that engrossed the entire world. To what extent the entire world felt the repercussions of this war was unknown to me until I read this book. The war engulfed all of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
While the battles were long, ferocious, and deadly, Beevor sheds light on the atrocities the civilian non-combatants faced from occupying armies. The huge loss of life throughout the war was not comprised solely of soldiers. Civilians accounted for huge losses, more than any other war. Due to rampant nationalism and propaganda hatred for the enemy led soldiers to do horrible things. They knew what they were doing was wrong too, because we have letters written home, but did it anyway. The prejudices each side had towards each other, especially the Germans and Soviets, led to many terrible losses in battles and human life. The various leader’s egos also contributed to huge loss of life on all sides, both Allied and Axis.
One thing that is especially exciting about this book is the detail given to every battle. No detail is spared in describing each and every battle. From battle formations, to orders from the top, a clear picture is painted on exactly how the battles unfolded. Using journals, letters home, communiques, and official reports, Beevor dives headfirst into firsthand accounts in order to pull every detail possible a provide the clearest account to date.
I will warn you, reading the entire book is quite an undertaking. Weighing it at 783 pages “The Second World War” is not for the casual reader. You’re going to want to block off about a month to read the whole thing, but it’s worth it because the chapters are short enough not to bore you, and at times you might find it difficult to put it down. In order to make it through this meaty book you need to enjoy the topic and want to know everything about it. It’s so comprehensive you could probably use it as a textbook in a college classroom. So if you’re looking for your next World War II book, pick up “The Second World War” by Antony Beevor, because it might just be your last.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid: one of the greatest aeronautical feats in military history.
On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 Mitchell medium bombers led by U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet and dropped their bomb loads on the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe, and Osaka.
Although the tactical and strategic damage inflicted on the Japanese was negligible the raid reaped enormous psychological and symbolic benefits for the United States and its Allies during the early months of 1942—when the Allied war effort was reeling from a series of crushing blows.
The Japanese Empire had bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor resulting in the loss of many of our nation’s battleships. American forces at Bataan in the Philippines had surrendered nine days before the raid and the sole American garrison at Corregidor would fall soon afterward. Most of the Southern and Central Pacific along Southeast Asia was under Japanese occupation.
In the Atlantic Allied shipping was being sunk at a horrific rate by German U-Boats. In Europe the Germans (although stymied at the gates of Moscow) still occupied significant amounts of Russian Territory and were also getting ready to threaten Libya and Egypt in North Africa once more.
The United States military despite being at war for four months was still woefully unprepared to undertake any major offensive operations against Germany, Italy, or Japan.
The situation was very bleak.