Category Archives: military

Remnant Placenames in Hungary, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 54-55:

When I had unfolded my map under the carob tree, the Tisza river, flowing south-east to join the Danube, uncoiled straight ahead of my path; I was struck by the place-names scattered beyond the east bank: Kúncsorba, Kúnszentmartón, Kúnvegytöke, and so on. The first syllable, it seemed, meant ‘Cuman’ and the region was still known as Nagykunság or Great Cumania. On my side of the river, a slightly different profusion spread southwards: Kiskúnhalas, Kiskúnfélegyháza, Kiskúndorozsma. ‘Kis’ means ‘little’: they belonged to the region of Kiskunság or Little Cumania.

So this was where the Cumans had ended up! And, even closer to my route, lay a still more peculiar paper-chase of place-names. Jászboldogháza, for instance, only a few miles north; and a bit farther afield, Jászladány, Jászapáti, Jászalsószentgyörgy, and many more… Here the first syllable recalled a more unexpected and still hoarier race of settlers. In the third century BC, the Jazyges, an Iranian speaking branch of the Sarmatians mentioned by Herodotus, were first observed in Scythian regions near the Sea of Azov, and some of them made their way to the west. They were allies of Mithridates—Ovid speaks of them in his Black Sea exile—and, between the Danube and the Tisza, exactly where their descendants finally settled, the Romans had much trouble with them. We know just what these Jazyges looked like from the column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza Colonna. The bas-relief warriors—and their horses, right down to their fetlocks—are sheathed in scale-armour like pangolins. Javelins lost, and shooting backwards in the famous Parthian style, they canter with bent bows up the spiral. Had they left any other traces in the Plain? Any dim, unexplained custom, twist of feature, scrap of language, or lingering turn of phrase? A few sparse reminders of the Pechenegs and the Cumans still flicker about the Balkans; but this entire nation seems to have vanished like will o’ the wisps and only these place-names mark the points of their evaporation.

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CSS Shenandoah Finally Surrenders

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 2369-2400:

After its adventure in Melbourne, the Shenandoah headed into the South Pacific, where Waddell encountered a string of bad luck. Forewarned of the Shenandoah’s presence by the American consul at Melbourne, U.S. shipping had fled the area so that no prizes were available, and a series of fierce storms battered the rebel raider as it struggled northward. Then on April Fool’s day, the Shenandoah found and captured three American brigs that were anchored off the idyllic island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. On that same day, nearly halfway around the world near Petersburg, Virginia, Federal troops broke through Lee’s lines at Five Forks, the event that prompted Lee’s decision to evacuate the Richmond-Petersburg lines and begin his retreat to Appomattox. By the time the Shenandoah left Micronesia and sailed north to begin its assault on the American whaling fleet in the Pacific, Lee had surrendered.

After a brief visit to the Sea of Okhotsk, where the ship and its crew battled ice storms and fog, the Shenandoah entered the Bering Sea in mid-June. There the pickings were plentiful, and the Shenandoah captured one whaling ship after another, burning most of them and using the others as cartels for the prisoners. Newspapers found on board one of the whaling ships reported that Charleston and Richmond had fallen to the Yankees. On another, the ship’s captain declared unequivocally that the war was over, that Lee had surrendered his army. Waddell demanded proof, but the whaling boat skipper could only reply that he had heard in San Francisco that the war was over. That was not good enough for Waddell or the members of his crew, one of whom wrote in his diary “There is no doubting the fact that the Confederacy has received in prestige a heavy blow, but further I do not believe.” Waddell was conflicted. If the war was indeed over, all his actions could be construed as piratical. But he had heard nothing officially, and it was always possible that the Yankees were publishing lies, something he believed them to be capable of. A few days later, Waddell captured another prize that had even more recent newspapers on board. These confirmed the fall of Richmond, but also stated that the rebel government had moved to Danville, Virginia, and that Jefferson Davis had resolved to fight on. The Shenandoah’s rampage continued. In four days (June 25-28), it took and burned 15 whaling ships and bonded three others.

Leaving the Bering Sea in early July, Waddell took the Shenandoah south along the North American coast with a plan to enter San Francisco Bay in the dark of night, steal up on the Union ironclad that was stationed there, board it in the dark, and take it. Then with both the Shenandoah and the Union ironclad under his command, he would place the city of San Francisco itself “under contribution,” that is, he would demand an indemnity from the city to avoid being shelled.

While en route there, however, the Shenandoah encountered the British bark Baracouta on August 2, and from it Waddell received chilling news. The war was indeed over. President Davis had been captured, southern armies had surrendered, and the people of the South had been “subjugated.” This time, there was no doubting the facts. As one officer wrote in his diary, “We now have no country, no flag, no home.” Describing this as “the bitterest blow,” Waddell pondered his next move. In his initial orders, written the previous October, Bulloch had suggested to Waddell that after he had completed his mission “the best disposition you could make of the Shenandoah would be to sell her, either somewhere on the west coast of South America or to adventurous speculators in the Eastern seas.” Uncertain whether that was still possible, and unwilling to surrender his command to the Yankees, Waddell resolved to take his ship to a European port. Waddell may have worried that the Yankees would consider him a pirate for having made most of his captures after the war had ended. In any case, he ordered the guns dismounted and struck below, pointed his ship southward, and began a 17,000-mile voyage back to the Shenandoah’s port of origin.

The Shenandoah passed Cape Horn in mid-September and turned north. Six members of the crew, fearful of being caught by a Federal steamer in the long run back to England and hanged as pirates, petitioned Waddell “to land us at the nearest and most convenient port,” and 10 others urged him to take the ship to Cape Town. Waddell’s officers supported him in his decision to return to Liverpool, and in a testimony to Waddell’s leadership, the rest of the crew, some 71 persons, signed another other petition expressing confidence in whatever decision he made. Discipline held, and so did Waddell’s luck. Though several ships were sighted en route to England, none pursued the disarmed Shenandoah, and on November 6, 1865, after a round-the-world the-world cruise of 58,000 miles, during which it had captured 38 prizes, the ship dropped anchor in the Mersey River near the British ship of the line HMS Donegal. Waddell distributed the prize money that had been taken before the end of the war to the members of the crew, and put the rest of it ($820.28) in a bag and gave it to the paymaster of the Donegal. After four more days in a kind of legal twilight, the officers and men of the Shenandoah were released unconditionally, and the Civil War at sea came to an end.

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Early “Destroyers” vs. “David Boats”

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 2006-2017:

Dahlgren wrote to Welles that the torpedo boats’ “rapidity of movement, control of direction, and precise explosion indicate, I think, the introduction of the torpedo element as a means of certain warfare.”

Beauregard agreed. Once a strong advocate of ironclads, the rebel commander decided that the loss of the Atlanta the previous spring had proved that Confederate ate ironclads could not compete with Union monitors. Because the monitors were “invulnerable to shots above water beyond 800 yards,” Beauregard decided that “they should be attacked below water.” He therefore advocated a whole fleet of torpedo boats. Naturally prone to exaggeration, he prophesied that “half a dozen of these steamers would raise the blockade of our Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and enable us to recover the navigation of the Mississippi River.” At Charleston, Savannah, and even Augusta, new “David Boats,” as they came to be called, were laid down, and as many as a dozen of them (the precise number is uncertain) were eventually completed. There was bickering between the Confederate army and navy, and between the ordnance and engineering branches, about who was in charge of the program, and, as always, finding reliable engines for them was the industrial bottleneck. These problems meant that despite their early promise, and despite Beauregard’s prediction, the David Boats did not succeed in changing the balance of power off Charleston Harbor.

They did, however, cause the Union blockaders many anxious nights. Dahlgren reorganized the blockade to account for the Davids and developed a number of countermeasures, including placing floating booms around some ships and calling for his captains to maintain a constant vigil. Interestingly, he suggested to Welles that the best countermeasure would be the construction of Union torpedo boats to attack and destroy the Davids. Though this was not done at Charleston, many such vessels were built in the ensuing decades. These vessels were called “torpedo boat destroyers,” eventually shortened to “destroyers”—a class of warship still in use today.”

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Civil War “West”: Rivers and Rails

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 1304-1325:

It is important to acknowledge that during Civil War, “the West” referred not to places like Arizona and New Mexico, or even Texas and Arkansas, which constituted the “trans-Mississippi West,” but instead to the expanse of territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The Ohio River marked its northern boundary, and the Gulf of Mexico its southern, and it encompassed all or part of six states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. It may seem odd to think of Georgia as part of the West since it borders the Atlantic Ocean, but strategically much of Georgia—especially Atlanta—was more closely tied to the West than the East. This vast western area got less public attention than the epic battles in Virginia both at the time and subsequently, and until recently Civil War literature tended to treat it as a secondary theater, though a good argument can be made that this expansive region was the decisive theater of the war.

Moreover, there were important differences in the way the war was fought in the West. First of all, the western theater was simply much larger. In the East, which contained both of the national capitals, most of the headline-grabbing battles took place in an area bounded by the Allegheny Mountains to the west and the Chesapeake Bay to the east. Gettysburg marked its northern limit and Petersburg its southern. Though it seemed enormous to the soldiers who had to march across it from place to place, it was a relatively small area, roughly the size of Massachusetts. By contrast, the war in the West ebbed and flowed in an area nearly 20 times as large. Given those dimensions, railroads were critical. Confederate General Braxton Bragg moved his army over 1,000 miles by rail to outflank a Union army in 1862; James Longstreet took two divisions across five states by rail to reinforce the Confederate army on the eve of Chickamauga in 1863; and Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman fought an entire campaign over control of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1864 in what may have been the decisive campaign of the war.

Even more critical, however, were the rivers. The rivers in the West were essential not only to the movement of armies, but also to the transport of the supplies necessary to sustain those armies. Transport ships could carry more men and goods, and do so more quickly and efficiently than railroads. And while rampaging cavalry might be able to interrupt railroad traffic by tearing up rails and burning bridges, they could not stop the flow of the rivers. Of course, transports could be ambushed by parties on shore, such as the battery the rebels briefly established at Commerce, Missouri, and for that reason, gunboats were necessary to escort the transports and keep the rivers secure.

In addition, the rivers were geographical realities that affected the strategic planning of both sides. In the East, where the main field armies of both sides slugged it out between Richmond and Washington, the rivers ran mostly west to east—that is horizontally as they appear on a map—athwart any potential Union line of advance, making them defensive barriers that worked to the South’s advantage. Civil War scholar Daniel Sutherland has named the Rappahannock-Rapidan River line in Virginia the “dare mark” beyond which Union armies advanced only at their peril. But with the exception of the Ohio River, the principal rivers in the West ran either north-to-south, like the Mississippi, or south-to-north, like the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers—that is, vertically as they appear on a map. Consequently they served not as barriers to a Union attack, but as avenues along which Union armies, supported by river gunboats, could advance. For these reasons, Union planners began to consider a river gunboat flotilla from almost the first days of the war.

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Confederate Commerce Raiding Effects

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 1238-1257:

Altogether during the war, eight Confederate commerce raiders captured and destroyed some 284 Union merchant ships valued at more than $25 million. Most of them were sailing ships, and a third of them (97) were taken by either the Alabama or the Florida.

In assessing the impact of these rebel raiders, as in assessing the impact of the blockade, numbers alone cannot tell the full story. William Dalzell, whose 1940 history The Flight from the Flag remains a classic, argued that the ripple effect of those 284 lost ships went well beyond the immediate impact of sunken ships and lost cargoes. The success of the Florida and the Alabama in particular led to a significant jump in maritime insurance rates, which reduced the profit margin even for ships that never encountered a rebel raider. Moreover, the rebel raiders engendered such fear within the American maritime community that many merchants abandoned American-flag ships altogether and shipped their goods in foreign bottoms. Facing a dearth of customers, American shippers either sold out or reregistered their ships in foreign countries. Whereas in 1858 only 33 American-built vessels registered as British ships, a total of 348 did so in 1863. Thus while the raiders sank or burned some 150,000 tons of Union shipping, they were also instrumental in provoking the transfer of another 800,000 tons to foreign registry. In all, nearly a million tons of merchant ships-half of the U.S. merchant marine-ceased to fly the American flag. In the fall of 1863, a reporter for the New York Herald noted that of the 176 ships then in New York Harbor, only 19 of them flew the American flag. The others flew the flags of England (93), Bremen (20), France (10), Denmark (6), Hanover (6), Hamburg (6), Prussia (4), Belgium (3), Norway (3), Austria (3), Holland (2), and Sweden (1). Indeed, American-flag shipping dropped nearly as spectacularly during the war as southern cotton exports. While the blockade reduced southern cotton exports from 2.8 million bales in 1860 to 55,000 in 1862, rebel commerce raiders effectively reduced Union shipping from 2.2 million tons in 1860 to fewer than 500,000 by 1865. Considering that the South invested considerably less in building and equipping its handful of raiders than the North did in establishing and maintaining the blockade, the southern decision to adopt a strategy of guerre de course [war on commerce] seems more than validated.

On the other hand, the raiders’ impact on the economy of the North was not nearly as devastating as the impact of the blockade was to the economy of the South. The hundreds of American-owned ships that adopted foreign registry to avoid being targeted by the rebel raiders were not lost, merely reflagged. During Britain’s wars with France earlier in the 19th century, much of its trade shifted to American-flag vessels to prevent their capture by French privateers. American commerce in this period had thrived as a result, but so, too, had the British economy. Now the situation was reversed, and during the Civil War much of America’s trade shifted to British-flag vessels. In both cases, the home economy continued to prosper. An editorial in the New York Sun in March of 1865, only weeks before Appomattox, noted “There never was a time in the history of New York when business prosperity was more general, when the demand for goods was greater, and payments more prompt, than within the last two or three years.

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Perils of Civil War Blockades

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 669-691:

Night was the most dangerous time, for that was when the blockade runners were most likely to attempt a run in or out of port. In the middle of a moonless night, perhaps in a misting rain, a slightly darker shadow amid the blackness might be perceived creeping through the anchored ships of the squadron. Wary of firing into a friend, the officer of the deck might order that the night signal be made asking “friend or foe?” At this order, the signal officer might fumble in the dark for Coston flares, and put up the required combination of red or white flares. If the appropriate response was not forthcoming, a rocket might be fired into the dark sky to alert the rest of the squadron. Feet would pound on the ladders and decks as men tumbled up from below to cast loose the big guns and train them out into the darkness seeking the shadowy outline of the blockade runner going past at 10, 12, or even 14 knots. Muzzle flashes would light up the night, temporarily blinding the gunners. Some ships would slip their anchors and set out in pursuit. Then it was over, more often than not with the runner escaped, the men angry about their missed opportunity, and the officers frustrated.

A typical encounter took place off Charleston on June 23, 1862. At 3:00 A.M., in the pitch black of the pre-dawn darkness, the deck watch on the wooden side-wheel steamer USS Keystone State spotted an unidentified steamer coming out of Charleston and making for open water. The watch officer fired a gun, slipped the anchor cable, and set out in pursuit. Thus alerted, the USS Alabama and the USS James Adger, flagship ship of the squadron, joined the chase, and all three Union warships set out at full speed after the illicit vessel. After three hours and more than 40 miles, the Alabama and James Adger found themselves falling further and further behind and they gave up the chase to the swifter Keystone State, which had a reputation as the fastest ship in the squadron. When the sun rose, the commander of the Keystone State, William LeRoy, identified the chase as the Nashville, a notorious blockade runner recently renamed named the Thomas L. Wragg. LeRoy ordered the coal heavers to redouble their efforts. To lighten ship and gain speed, he ordered the ship’s drinking water pumped over the side and jettisoned several lengths of anchor chain. Slowly but steadily the Keystone State began to gain on its quarry.

On board the fleeing Nashville, the officers and crew grew desperate. They threw their entire cargo, cotton valued at more than a million dollars, overboard, and then they began tearing apart the deck cabins to burn the wood and raise more steam. The Nashville pulled ahead again. For more than 300 miles, the two ships raced across the ocean at full speed, heading southeast. Finally after an all-day chase, with each ship squeezing every ounce of speed out of its engine, the Nashville slipped into a squall and disappeared. Eventually it reached Abaco in the British Bahamas. LeRoy, vastly disappointed, pointed, returned to resume the interminable blockade of Charleston. Statistically this went into the books as the successful escape of a blockade runner, though of course the loss of the Nashville’s cargo meant that it resulted in no benefit to the Confederacy.

But there was more. When the James Adger returned to the blockade squadron off Charleston after its 80-mile roundtrip pursuit of the Nashville, its commander, John B. Marchand, learned that during his absence another notorious blockade runner, the Memphis, had slipped into the harbor past the blockading squadron and was aground on the beach at Sullivan’s Island under the guns of Fort Moultrie. The Confederates were already at work removing its cargo by lighters. It was mortifying to Marchand to report to Du Pont at Port Royal that two ships had successfully violated the blockade.

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Logistics of Early Sidewheel Steamships

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 78-97:

Despite their self-evident logistical limitations, the tactical superiority of paddle steamers in the Mexican War led Congress in 1847 to approve three new side-wheel steamers (the Susquehanna, the Powhatan, and the Saranac), and one with a screw propeller (the San Jacinto), all of which would play prominent roles in the Civil War. Like all steamers of that era, each of these ships carried a full suite of masts and spars and were labeled “auxiliary steamers” because they were expected to navigate under sail at least as often as they did under steam. They were, in fact, transitional vessels that straddled the age of sail and the age of steam. The principal reason for including the San Jacinto in the program was to compare a screw-driven vessel against a paddle-wheel vessel, a comparison that was marred by the fact that the San Jacinto had a number of engineering flaws-including a propeller shaft that was 20 inches off the centerlines.

Despite that, it very soon became evident that the side-wheel steamers were inferior to screw steamers. When the Susquehanna was dispatched to the Far East by way of Capetown and the Indian Ocean in 1851, it took eight months to steam 18,500 miles, and it burned 2,500 tons of coal en route. Simple division shows that this yielded an average of 7.4 miles of forward progress for each ton of coal burned. Because coal cost an average of about $10 a ton in 1851, it cost the government about $1.35 (more than a full day’s pay) for every mile that passed under the Susquehanna‘s keel. Moreover, the lengthy transit time was a product not only of its relatively slow speed (8-10 knots) but also of the fact that the Susquehanna had to stop eight times en route to refuel, spending 54 days in port recoaling. Finally, all of those coaling stops were necessarily at foreign ports because the United States had no overseas bases in the mid-19th century. Even after the Susquehanna arrived-finally-on station at Hong Kong, it remained dependent on foreign sources of fuel to stay there. Obviously, for a navy with far-flung responsibilities and no overseas coaling bases, steam power continued to have significant limitations.

A second problem with side-wheel steamers like the Susquehanna was that those enormous paddle wheels on each side obscured much of the ships’ broadsides, thus limiting the number of guns they could carry, and those big paddle wheels made very inviting targets. If one of the paddle wheels was damaged by enemy fire, the ship’s mobility would be dramatically affected, and the helmsman would need great skill to prevent the ship from yawing off course or even steaming in a circle. Navy Lieutenant W. W. Hunter suggested that the solution was to turn the paddle wheels on their sides and place them below the water line, thus putting them out of the line of fire and restoring storing an uninterrupted broadside. Dubbed the Hunter’s Wheel, this seemed to offer a technological and tactical solution. But in practice the Hunter’s Wheel proved stunningly inefficient. In 1842 the USS Union was engineered to operate with Hunter’s Wheels, but while they dramatically churned up the water and burned extravagant amounts of coal, the ship made no better than five knots, and in 1848 its engines were removed and it was employed as a receiving ship. In the end, the best solution proved, after all, to be Ericsson’s screw propeller, and in the mid 1850s, during a burst of naval expansion, the U.S. Navy returned to it for a new generation of warships.

The Powhatan and Susquehanna were among the “black ships” in Commodore Perry’s expeditions to Japan.

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U.S. Submarine Success, 1944-45

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 591-594, 611:

The quality of life on American submarines was greatly improved by 1944. Occasional showers were now possible, and rations were dramatically better. The captain of one sub reported that “our freezer was filled with boned meats—including steaks, roasts, chops, and hamburgers. The baker was up at 0300 each day to prepare fresh breads, rolls, cakes, and cookies.” On most subs, there was an “open door policy” that allowed crewmen to help themselves to cold cuts and sandwiches as well as fresh coffee around the clock. A number of boats had self-service Coca-Cola machines, which one skipper called “a real morale booster.” Periodically, the crews might gather in the forward torpedo room to watch a movie. Such luxuries were unimaginable to the crews of Germany’s “iron coffins,” or, indeed, those of Japanese or British submarines.

The new American subs were also more efficient. The torpedo problems had been largely solved (though the loss of the Tang showed that some problems remained), and the number of Japanese ships sunk increased dramatically. Whereas in 1942, American submarines sank a total of 612,039 tons of shipping, in 1944 they destroyed 2,388,709 tons, nearly four times as much. If that was less than the tonnage claimed by Dönitz’s more numerous U-boats back in the “happy time” of 1942, as a percentage of Japanese shipping it was far greater. In 1941 the Japanese had nearly 6.4 million tons of merchant shipping. Despite adding 3.5 million more during the war—nearly half of it in 1944—by the end of that year there was less than 2.5 million tons left. The Japanese merchant marine was steadily disappearing because Japan could not do what the United States did: build ships as fast or faster than its enemy could sink them.

Another reason for American success was that Japanese anti-submarine warfare was not particularly effective. Japanese escorts had both sonar and depth charges, but their crews were less efficient in using them than the British in the Atlantic or the Americans in the Pacific. It was not uncommon for American subs to endure prolonged depth charge attacks with little or no damage…. Of course, having to lie quiet and endure a depth-charge attack, even an unsuccessful one, was psychologically draining. The repeated concussions often shattered lightbulbs and loosened the cork lining on the bulkheads; still, as long as the pressure hull held, the boat survived. Japanese inefficiency in depth-charge attacks is especially curious since they were extraordinarily efficient in most other areas of naval warfare. The explanation may be at least partly cultural. Valuing the offense over the defense, Japanese destroyermen worked harder at perfecting torpedo attacks than they did at the more pedantic job of escorting lumbering merchant ships or pinpointing the location of unseen American submarines.

In addition to the gradual depletion of the number of Japanese ships, those that survived became increasingly inefficient. One reason was a shortage of cargo handlers. By 1944, conscription had swept up most experienced longshoremen into the armed forces and Japan was compelled to rely on dock workers rounded up from the regions they had conquered—Filipinos, Koreans, and Chinese—as well as Japanese women and even American prisoners of war. Such workers were inexperienced, and many of them were less than enthusiastic in their labor, so efficiency suffered. Another problem was Japanese reluctance to embrace convoys. They did not put a convoy system in place until late in 1943, and convoys did not become routine until the spring of 1944. Even then, there were so few escorts that convoys were delayed, sometimes for weeks, for lack of an escort vessel. In such circumstances, it seemed wiser to send out ships individually, especially through what were assumed to be safe areas. The problem was that by 1944 there were no safe areas.

The firebombing of Japan’s major cities was apocalyptic. The postwar Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that “some 40 percent of the built up area of the 66 cities attacked was destroyed. Approximately 30 percent of the entire urban population of Japan lost their homes and many their possessions.” The impact that such devastation had on Japan’s wartime economy is less clear. At the time, the [Army Air Forces] insisted that destruction of the “housing units” of factory workers weakened Japanese industry. Yet most of the industries in the areas that were destroyed by firebombing had ceased to function long before the raids began because American submarines had halted the delivery of most raw materials. A factory without access to raw materials is just a building. Several of the air strikes directed at Japan’s petroleum resources, for example, hit refineries that were no longer functioning and tank farms that were empty. The historian Mark Parillo put it anatomically: “The submarine had stopped Japan’s industrial heart from beating by severing its arteries and it did so well before the bomber ruptured the organ.” Given that, the B-29 firebombing raids that began in March 1945 and continued almost without interruption for the rest of the war were less strategic bombing than terror bombing.

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Two D-Days: Saipan vs. Normandy

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 540-541:

The American buildup for the invasion of Saipan (code-named Operation Forager) occurred simultaneously with preparations for Overlord; measured by firepower, the Saipan invasion fleet was even larger than the one devoted to Normandy. Raymond Spruance commanded the overall invasion force that included Pete Mitscher’s powerful Task Force 58, which by now consisted of fifteen carriers, seven battleships, eleven cruisers, and eighty-six destroyers. It would provide cover for an invasion force that included fifty-six attack transports and eighty-four LSTs carrying 127,571 soldiers and Marines. The employment of eighty-four LSTs in the Pacific at a time when Eisenhower was scrambling for just one or two more for Normandy was powerful evidence that the Germany-first principle had been virtually abandoned.

The invasion of Saipan also required a much longer sealift than at Normandy. While the invasion forces for Neptune-Overlord had to leap fifty or a hundred miles across the English Channel, many of the transports and amphibious ships loaded up at Pearl Harbor, more than thirty-five hundred miles from the target beach. For Neptune-Overlord, the LSTs could, and did, shuttle reinforcements and supplies to the beaches in a near-constant rotation for weeks after the initial landings. For Saipan, by contrast, the men, the equipment, the supplies, and the ammunition all had to cross the broad Pacific in a single giant stride. Eisenhower had warned Marshall that a shortage of LSTs at Normandy could mean that his invasion force might be stranded on the beach for as long as three days without resupply. By design, the men who invaded Saipan would be stranded there for three months before significant reinforcements or supplies could reach them, though of course the Japanese, too, would have to fight the battle with what they had on hand, since Saipan would be virtually cut off from support.

Like the men who invaded Normandy, the would-be invaders of Saipan first had to load the landing ships and landing craft; it was hard work, and dangerous, too. On May 17, as work parties were off-loading 4.2-inch mortar ammunition from LST-353 in Pearl Harbor, one of the mortar rounds detonated. The explosion ignited nearby barrels of gasoline, and the entire ship went up in a thunderous fireball, setting off a number of explosions on nearby ships. A witness recalled that “whole jeeps, parts of ships, guns, equipment, shrapnel, fragments of metal, all rained down on the waters of West Loch.” Before it was over, 168 men were dead, and six LSTs and three LCTs had been completely destroyed. It was just nineteen days after the loss of three LSTs off Slapton Sands in the English Channel. To replace the lost vessels, eight LSTs were transferred from MacArthur’s command. No doubt Ike wished it had been that easy for him.

The Saipan invasion force departed Pearl Harbor during the last three days of May. While en route, the tedium was broken by a not altogether unexpected announcement: “Now hear this. The invasion of France has started. Supreme Headquarters announced that the landings to date have been successful. That is all.” The news provoked loud and sustained cheering, and no doubt boosted the morale of those who were about to conduct their own D-Day.

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Evolution of Landing Craft

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 425-429:

Eight months earlier in North Africa, the Allies had relied on whatever vessels they could scrape together, including car ferries and passenger liners, for the Torch landings. The results had been sobering. As American Major General Lucian Truscott had noted, the landings were “a hit-or-miss affair that would have spelled disaster against a well-armed enemy intent upon resistance.” Chaotic as it was to land the soldiers, an even more serious problem had been the offloading of jeeps, trucks, and especially tanks. As the British had learned at Dieppe, landing tanks onto a hostile beach was extraordinarily difficult. Those experiences led British and American ship designers to create vessels to fulfill that function. The result was the emergence of an entire family of specialized amphibious ships, each of which was routinely identified by an acronym.

The largest and most important of them was the “landing ship, tank,” or LST. Large, slow, and ungainly, LSTs were designed specifically to solve the problem of landing large numbers of heavy tanks on an enemy beach. Previously, that task had been the duty of a much smaller vessel called a “landing craft, mechanized” (LCM) or Mike boat, often referred to as a “tank lighter.” While an LCM could carry one thirty-three-ton Sherman tank, it was self-evident that depositing tanks one at a time onto a defended beach was unlikely to overwhelm a determined enemy. By contrast, one LST could accommodate twenty Sherman tanks or thirty two-and-a-half-ton trucks (the famous “deuce and a half”) in its cavernous hold, plus another thirty to forty jeeps or artillery pieces on its weather deck. Moreover, despite their great size, the LSTs had a flat bottom (as one veteran noted, they were “shaped like a bathtub”) and could push right up onto the sand of the invasion beach. There they opened massive bow doors and deployed a short ramp, and the tanks and trucks could then drive out onto the beach. After discharging their cargoes, the LSTs closed their bow doors and retracted from the beach by using a powerful winch on the stern that hauled in on an anchor that had been dropped offshore. As Churchill himself noted, the LST “became the foundation of all our future amphibious operations.”

Before the war was over, the United States would build more than a thousand LSTs, but in April and May 1943, when the Allies assembled the plan for the invasion of Sicily, there were fewer than two hundred of them, and many of those were still undergoing sea trials. As a result, the invasion groups for Operation Husky sought to maximize each LST to its fullest capacity. During one pre-invasion exercise, Allied planners loaded one with 450 men, all of their equipment, and no fewer than ninety-four vehicles to see if it could still operate. It could.

Another new amphibious ship was a smaller tank carrier that the British called a “tank landing craft” (TLC) and the Americans a “landing craft, tank” (LCT) [see note below]. Half the length of an LST, and displacing only a third the tonnage, an LCT could carry up to five tanks or trucks in its open-air hold. These sturdy amphibs were especially useful for bringing tanks ashore during the first several waves, when it was too dangerous to expose the large, scarce, and expensive LSTs to shore-based artillery fire.

To carry the men ashore, the Allies would again rely heavily on the small landing boats, officially LCAs (British) or LCVPs (American), often (and herein) called Higgins boats. The newest versions had an armored drop-front bow so that the men did not have to climb out over the sides to get to the beach. Small, cheap, and almost literally disposable, the Higgins boats were ideal for the first several assault waves, though in order to build up troop numbers quickly during subsequent waves, the Allies also had a larger troop carrier called a “landing craft, infantry” (LCI), which their crews affectionately called an LC or “Elsie.” The most common type was an LCI(L), the second L standing for “large.” Significantly bigger than the Higgins boats, an LCI(L) could carry up to two hundred soldiers at a time. They did not carry any vehicles, as they had no bow doors. After pushing up onto the beach, they deployed two narrow ramps, one on either side of the bow, and the embarked soldiers charged down those ramps onto the beach. Armed with only four 20 mm guns and mostly unarmored, an LCI was all but helpless against hostile shore fire, but it was indispensable for bringing in large numbers of infantry.

NOTE: Officially any vessel displacing more than 200 tons was a ship while vessels displacing less than 200 tons were craft. This rule of thumb was not universally applied, however, since both LCTs and LCIs displaced more than 500 tons but were still called craft.

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