Tag Archive: WWII

A Bit of WWII History, The U.S. Asiatic Fleet

A Bit of WWII History, The U.S. Asiatic Fleet
Even, perhaps especially, in defeat there is often extraordinary sacrifice and courage that deserves to be remembered.

USS Asheville (PG-21) under the command of Lieutenant Commander Jacob W. Britt was one of the last ships to evacuate Java, left behind due to an engine casualty, reducing speed to 10kts. Unbeknownst to Britt, between Asheville and the relative safety of Australia are four Japanese Pearl Harbor-veteran carriers, four battleships, numerous cruisers, destroyers, submarines and hundreds of land-based bombers; and the Japanese know the compromised allied rendezvous point (COMSEC violation). Sighting the Asheville alone at dawn on 3 Mar 1942, the Japanese destroyers Arashi and Nowaki, backed up by a heavy cruiser, close for the kill with a 20kt speed advantage armed with twelve 5″ guns and sixteen 24″ torpedoes against Asheville’s three 4″ guns. Asheville does not strike her colors, raise a white flag, jump into the lifeboats or scuttle the ship. Instead, Asheville opens fire, and she keeps firing as long as she is able. It takes the two top-of-the-line Japanese destroyers over 30 minutes and 300 rounds to put the archaic China gunboat under; an action viewed by the Japanese as a total fiasco but typical of the prodigious expenditure of surface ammunition to little effect, by both sides, during the course of the campaign. The Japanese rescued one Sailor and left the rest to perish as they hurried to massacre an Allied convoy just over the horizon. Engineman Fred L. Brown died in Japanese captivity in March 1945 from the combined untreated effects of disease and beatings, and the story of the Asheville is known only via another POW from the sunken USS Pope (DD-225) and fragmentary Japanese reports. Because no witnesses survived the war, there are no Medals of Honor, no Navy Crosses, no unit citations, just the dim memory of a brave crew of 166 men who fought valiantly without hope, lost somewhere about 160 NM SW of Bali.

Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

From the Book Shelf

The Fleet at Flood Tide
America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945

By James D. Hornfischer


There was no explaining away what thousands of Marines had observed with their own disbelieving eyes in the Marianas. The ritual suicides of the Japanese garrisons, their predatory brainwashing and murder of the innocent unarmed, have been insufficiently considered as a turning point that shaped the war’s final year. … The first direct U.S. experience of total war occurred in the Marianas, and it renewed the will to win and to win totally, using all means available, without restraint. Unconditional surrender became the byword of this new resolve.

 Viewed through the haze of 7-plus decades it is hard to imagine the scope, the dedication and the unimaginable horrors of total all-out world war that was WWII. But James Hornfischer describes it well in his latest book, The Fleet at Flood Tide.

 As the brief excerpt above suggests, this splendid volume is a detailed narrative of the U.S. offensive into the Mariana Islands of the Central Pacific and the final year of the war.

If one can quibble with anything about the book, to me it would be the title, specifically “The Fleet.” It is far from being just a chronicle of naval warfare. Rather it spells out in close detail the overwhelming air, land and sea operations that seized the strategically vital islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

It is the story of the strategies and planning at the highest levels, but also it is the story of the individual men—mostly very young men—that made victory happen. It details what one reviewer called the true nature of their foe—not only the Imperial Japanese military—but its suicide-ready civilians as well.

He said that after the bloody capture of Saipan, two clear truths emerged: “A great victory was in hand… and far worse lay ahead.”

If you have ever questioned the decisions that brought about the end of the war, Hornfischer may make you reorder your thinking. The book makes clear the unimaginable depth of the Japanese will to resist. The reader is left with the obvious conclusion that an invasion of Japan proper would have been bloody beyond measure, for us as well as for the Japanese populace.

Today we all know how the saga ends, but this highly recommended book details how in the final months of the war we got there. It covers the penultimate B-29 incendiary raids on Japan and the painfully considered use of atomic bombs. But most significantly, it tells the story of the actions of soldiers, sailors, and airmen that combined to achieve victory.

— Reviewed by Past Commander Jim Blossey


Dispatch from Rome

ANZAC Day in Romeby Pete Farmer

I am living in Rome, Italy for a year. It is a great experience and I thought I would share some that would be of interest to Post 8870 members.

April 25th is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. It commemorates the landing of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli, Turkey on that date 1915. As part of British and Commonwealth ground and Naval forces, the aim was to knock the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), a German ally, out of WWI and provide relief to Russia. The campaign failed and ground forces withdrew after 8 months and with heavy losses on both sides.

Why celebrate a failure? Both Australia and New Zealand were newly independent, but there was no question that they would fight for the mother country on the international stage. Their involvement was a sign of nationalism and ANZAC spirit that had not fully existed earlier. Australians and New Zealanders annually participate in a lottery to attend ceremonies at Gallipoli. I was able to visit the battlefield as part of a tour of Turkey two years ago. It was a moving experience.

ANZAC Day in RomeRome is one of several other sites in the world to have their own ceremonies. The Australian and New Zealand embassies sponsor the event at the Rome War Cemetery. This is a plot of land donated by Italy and contains the graves of 426 Commonwealth veterans of the liberation of Italy in WWII. The ceremony remembers all their veterans. Wreaths are placed by representatives of the Commonwealth and Allied nations and by Turkey.

From the Book Shelf

Helmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific By Robert LeckieHelmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific
By Robert Leckie

This is a compelling first-person account of the life of an enlisted Marine participating in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during WW II. In intimate detail, the author recounts his experiences in training on Parris Island, as only those who have experienced basic training can appreciate.

After training Lackie was assigned to the Second Battalion, First Regiment, of the First Marine Division as a gunner on a two-man 30 caliber gun crew and on August 7, 1942, his unit landed at Red Beach on Guadalcanal, thus beginning his experience as a combat Marine, taking him on to New Britain, and Peleliu where his war ended after he was wounded by an exploding artillery shell. He spares no detail regarding the horrors of war that he experienced and writes eloquently about his many friends who were killed. The book provides an unvarnished view of the day-to-day life of the Marines who participated in combat operations in the Pacific.

Lackie’s experience in WWII was among those featured in the HBO miniseries Pacific, which is available on Netflix and DVD.

“From the Bookshelf”, a recurring series of book reviews written by Fred Apgar.