Currently Reading Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II by John C. McManus

I’ve known John for a few years now and don’t think he’d mind my calling him a friend, despite the fact that he’s a fan of one of the worst teams in professional hockey (the St. Louis Blues). Ok, so maybe now he’ll mind. But even though he hates my Detroit Red Wings, I still think he’s a truly gifted writer, and a very good historian that does some great research and shares a tremendous fascination in the American history of the Second World War with his readers.

Since leaving my job with the US Army a few years ago, I’m a bit out of the loop concerning what he’s been working on, but I’m always excited when I see that he has a new book out because I know he’ll always include great firsthand accounts from the men that were there doing the fighting.

I just started reading the book this weekend but hope to have a review done sometime soon.

Final Contact: USS Indianapolis Passes LST 779, 29 July 1945

Dr. Richard Hulver, a historian at Navy History and Heritage Command (NHHC) in Washington, DC, has rediscovered some information that may help researchers discover the final resting place of USS Indianapolis (CA-35).

Battle of Midway Hero Passes Away at 100

Two American SBD's fly over a Japanese ship, presumably Mikuma, during the Battle of Midway.

Two American SBD’s fly over a Japanese ship, presumably Mikuma, during the Battle of Midway.

Mr. Norman Jack “Dusty” Kleiss had just celebrated his 100th birthday this past March 7th. Kleiss was the last surviving dive-bomber from the famed Battle of Midway, an important American naval victory over the Japanese which occurred from 4-6 June 1942. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, class of 1938, Kleiss served as the pilot of an SBD-2 Dauntless in Scouting Squadron SIX (VS-6) off USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6). Of the 32 SBDs that took off from ENTERPRISE on 4 June, 16 were from VS-6. Only half of them returned, with six crews being unaccounted for. Two other SBD crewmembers were later rescued safely. The next two days of the battle also saw the crews of VS-6 flying sorties against the Japanese carriers, and fortunately both days saw the return of all personnel and aircraft from those highly successful missions.

Before his heroic actions at Midway, Lt. (j.g.) Kleiss had also flown scouting missions at the battles of Kwajalein and Maleolap Atoll in the Marshall Islands, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross after scoring a direct hit on a Japanese light carrier on 1 February 1942. For helping to bomb the Japanese carriers Kaga and Hiryu, and thus stop the Japanese Imperial Navy cold during the Battle of Midway, Kleiss would be awarded the Navy Cross. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain.

Kleiss, typical of so many of America’s WWII veterans, once humbly replied when told he was a hero, “I’m anything but a hero….I was only doing what at the time was the proper thing to do.”

To view the citations for Kleiss’ Navy Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross awards, visit:

The Best 17 WWII Air Corps Bomber Jackets, and the saga of ‘Murder Inc.’

The link above takes you to photos of some of the coolest Army Air Corps jackets worn by bomber crew personnel during the war. One that I found missing from this list however, and a personal favorite of mine, is the ‘Murder Inc.’ bomber jacket. The logo on the back of the leather jacket itself didn’t exactly grab your attention, but apparently the only one ever made for the crew was given to Kenneth Daniel Williams, ‘Murder Inc.’s’ bombardier. “Murder Incorporated,” or “Murder Inc.” as they were more famously known, was the name given to Mafia kingpins Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s gang of ruthless killers. Infamous for their violence, which included murder-for-hire, Murder Inc. kept a deadly roster of hit men on the payroll.  There can be little doubt why such an infamous outfit would inspire a crew of young men participating in the violence of war and therefore would choose to name themselves after such a bloody band of outlaws. When Williams was asked if he wanted something drawn on his bomber jacket which incorporated their plane’s name, he simply responded, “Sure.” Lacking a sexy pinup girl or outlandish cartoon character, the jacket simply bears the name of the 351st Bomb Group’s plane, ‘Murder Inc,’ along with the Army Air Corps star symbol. But in this case, the meaning behind the demonically dark name bestowed upon the plane and crew was worth its weight in gold to the Nazis. When the crew of ‘Murder Inc.’ was shot down in 1944, they were captured and were quickly put to use for propaganda against the US. Strangely enough, the crew had not been shot down in ‘Murder Inc.,’ but another airplane. But that didn’t stop the Nazis from exclaiming that they finally had, in the flesh, the wild, homicidal Yankee gangsters that had bombed, burned, and murdered so many Germans. Williams, wearing the only jacket to sport the plane’s moniker, unwittingly delivered the enemy a propaganda gift. The consequence of an American bomber crew being portrayed as murderous gangsters resulted in the 8th Air Force ordering that all names for every new bomber had to be approved.

murder inc.

“The Most Stunning and Decisive Blow in the History of Naval Warfare:” The Battle of Midway

Two American SBD's fly over a Japanese ship, presumably Mikuma, during the Battle of Midway.

Two American SBD’s fly over a Japanese ship, presumably Mikuma, during the Battle of Midway.

Nearly six months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the war in the Pacific was not going well for the Allies. A terrible beating by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942, resulted in the dissolving of the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Command and the threat of a victorious Japanese fleet sailing for Australia and possibly Hawaii. The next major encounter between the Japanese and Allied fleet, in May, was a tactical Japanese victory at Coral Sea which in turn set the stage for the Battle of Midway, which occurred from June 4-7, 1942.

US code breakers had broken the Japanese Navy’s JN-25b code, and knew that a carrier strike force under Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was heading for the island of Midway, which was being defended by American forces. Nagumo’s plan was to trap and then destroy the American carriers and end US presence in the Pacific Ocean. The Americans intended to ambush Nagumo’s force, surprising and destroying them in the process.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, had only two carriers after Coral Sea, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8). The USS Yorktown (CV-5), in Hawaii for rushed repairs, was to rendezvous with the task force and help find and destroy the Japanese. Nagumo launched his attack on Midway Island on June 4, 1942, nearly at the same time that American planes took off from the island to find the Japanese carriers. Unfortunately, the Midway pilots were all rookies and flying already obsolete aircraft. Only 1 in 4 of the US airmen returned from fending off Japanese fighters, bombers, and ships. Still, the Japanese were impressed with the American pilots’ fighting spirit, which they likened to that of the samurai.

Admiral Raymond Spruance, aboard USS Enterprise, decided to make a huge gamble early on in the fighting. Hoping to catch the Japanese by surprise, he sent his pilots further out, all with the knowledge that they may not have enough fuel to make it back to their carriers. A Japanese scout plane spotted the Americans first, but for some reason delayed getting the message back to Admiral Nagumo. The Americans continued to search for the Japanese carriers off of Midway. They received some luck when the torpedo bomber crews spotted a Japanese destroyer that for four hours had been trying to destroy a US submarine and followed it, heading back to rejoin the fleet. Finally, the Americans had found Nagumo’s carrier group. The American squadrons had become separated from one another at some point, and US torpedo bombers found themselves without fighter cover, but valiantly attacked the Japanese carriers and released several torpedoes into the water. The torpedo bombers were promptly torn to pieces by the faster, more nimble Zero fighter planes providing air cover for Nagumo’s ships. Of 28 men flying from the Enterprise, 18 were killed. From the Yorktown, 21 of 24 pilots died during their brave attack, while only one man from the Hornet survived. None of the torpedoes launched by the American pilots hit a Japanese ship. Almost before it had even begun, the US was quickly losing the battle.

However, the fortunes of war began to change dramatically for the Americans. The sacrifice of the torpedo bomber crews provided the next wave of US dive bombers an opportunity to strike Nagumo’s force. Confident and hopeful just before the battle began, Admiral Nagumo had suddenly become indecisive and uncertain. He had wanted to launch a more coordinated attack against the US carriers, and ordered his combat aircraft patrol planes to land in order to refuel. American dive bombers, with fighter escorts this time, found the Japanese carriers and struck first. They fiercely attacked the Empire’s carriers, catching the Japanese planes refueling or just about to take off. In a matter of only five minutes, three of Japan’s carriers, the Kaga, Agaki, and Soryu, were all hit and burning fiercely. Kaga had been hit with four 1,000 pound bombs on her flight deck and hangar bay, igniting fuel and explosives from the planes awaiting takeoff. Eight hundred of her crew went down with the ship. The Agaki was hit by two bombs and suffered a similar fate to Kaga. The Soryu and Kaga were both scuttled later in the day, followed by the Agaki on June 5th. The fourth carrier, Hiryu, was still able to launch aircraft, which struck back at the USS Yorktown, and damaged the ship with three well-placed bomb hits. The Hiryu was the final Japanese carrier to be sunk on June 5th when dive bombers from Yorktown and Enterprise bombed her repeatedly.

Aboard the Yorktown, sailors were ordered to abandon ship after a series of bomb strikes caused her to list heavily to port. On June 7th, a Japanese submarine slipped through the cordon of destroyer escorts and finished Yorktown off by torpedoing and sinking her and the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412). The US Navy also suffered the loss of 150 aircraft and 307 airmen and sailors. Despite this, Midway was an overwhelming American victory. The Empire of Japan had lost 248 aircraft, over 3,000 Japanese sailors, and one heavy cruiser. Four of the Empire’s seven carriers were now at the bottom of the ocean. It was a hard-won victory for the US, albeit one in which both sides made many mistakes. The US had not only bought valuable time to build up its Pacific Fleet, but dealt the Japanese a stunning defeat, their first naval loss since 1863.

The Battle of Midway is often cited as a turning point in World War II. While not completely crippling Japan’s navy, the US greatly wreaked havoc on the Empire’s resources. Military historian John Keegan called Midway, “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.” This single battle did not immediately end the war in the Pacific, but it was a much needed victory at the time, and one in which the US was able to build momentum from.

Five Little Known Facts About the Battle of Midway

  1. Some 60-70% of the American pilots that flew the various aircraft during the battle were reserve officers. According to Vice Admiral (retired) William Ward Smith, author of Midway: Turning Point of the Pacific, a fighter pilot named Ed Bassett was one such reservist that tried to pack in as much life as he could, due to a fortuneteller having once told him that he would never live beyond his twenty-seventh birthday. Having turned twenty-seven just a few days prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea, he flew raids at Salamaua and Lae and also had “several close calls” during Coral Sea as well. Bassett, like many a good fighter pilot, rushed in headlong to danger, and threw his plane at the Japanese carriers at Midway, but was never heard from again. The fortuneteller was ultimately right; if only off by a couple of months.
  2. Ensign George Gay, a TBD Devastator pilot with VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron 8) from USS Hornet (CV-8), was the sole survivor of his squadron of 30 aircraft. Going up against the Japanese carrier Kaga, Gay launched a torpedo which missed. Fired upon by five pursuing Japanese Zeros and anti-aircraft fire from the Kaga, Gay was wounded in the left arm, had his left rudder control blown away, and lost his rear seat gunner to Japanese fire. He briefly thought of ramming the Kaga with his plane, but decided against it and ditched in the ocean. Using a seat cushion to conceal himself, Gay watched the battle unfold, hid from strafing Zeros and Imperial Navy ships that passed so close he could see the faces of the crewmen. He went undetected and from his unique vantage point, witnessed the sinking of three of the four Japanese carriers lost at Midway. After nearly 30 hours in the water, Gay was finally rescued by a Navy PBY plane.
  3. Damaged during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, USS Yorktown (CV-5) was ordered to refit at Pearl Harbor to be ready for Midway. The breaking of the Japanese codes had given the Americans the upper hand. Having been told it would take 90 days to repair the Yorktown, Admiral Nimitz gave the repair workers just three to get her back in the war, which they amazingly accomplished. Yorktown served admirably during the battle, was disabled after being struck by three bombs which killed 141 sailors, and was the only American carrier sunk when a Japanese submarine sent two torpedoes into her side on June 7th.
  4. Three American servicemen captured during the battle were rescued from the sea, interrogated, and then murdered by the Japanese. Ensign Wesley Osmus, a pilot off the Yorktown, was picked up by the destroyer Arashi, while Ensign Frank O’Flaherty and his radioman-gunner Aviation Machinist’s Mate Bruno Gaido were picked up by either the cruiser Nagara or destroyer Makigumo (accounts vary). All three were questioned, and Osmus was soon after tied to water-filled kerosene cans and thrown overboard to drown. Admiral Nagumo only mentioned Ensign Osmus in a report that he had “died on 6 June and was buried at sea.” O’Flaherty received the Navy Cross for his attack on the Japanese invasion fleet, which curiously cites that he was killed in action on June 4th, the first day of the battle. However, a postwar investigation stated that O’Flaherty and Gaido were most likely murdered on June 15th, eleven days after they were forced to ditch in the ocean when their SBD ran out of fuel. Japanese sailors allegedly tied weights to their ankles and threw both men overboard to their deaths.
  5. Hollywood director John Ford served as a commander in the Naval Reserve during the war, as well as head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Considered the best director of Hollywood at the time (Ford still holds the record for Academy Award wins for directors with four); he was at Midway and captured the battle on film. Wounded in the arm by bomb shrapnel when the Japanese attacked the island, he was so moved by the American defenders and the young fighter and bomber pilots, that he made two films: “Battle of Midway,” which was intended for the American public at large; and “Torpedo Squadron,” which had been made specifically for the families of the torpedo bomber pilots, many of whom had been killed while they attacked the Japanese carriers during the battle.

The SS and Superman

Superman takes on der Fuhrer during World War II.

Superman takes on der Fuhrer during World War II.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s some “pleasant” American guy in “red shorts!” In the comics, Superman would even go on to attack the West Wall in those very same shorts. The Nazis were somewhat bemused that an American would even dare try and breach the Siegfried Line, arrogantly assuming it would take a superhuman effort to do so. The Nazis, who considered themselves the Ubermensch of Europe in the 1930s and 40s, must have been somewhat weary upon learning of a new American comic book superhero who seemed more Aryan in theory, and thus like themselves, than a typical American.

The Nazis came to despise Superman, the comic hero created in 1939 by Cleveland native Jerry Siegel. And yes, you probably wouldn’t be wrong at all in assuming Mr. Siegel’s being Jewish had something to do with the extreme dislike the Nazis had for Siegel and his All-American cartoon creation.

Superman with Hitler and Tojo. Hopefully he's about to clunk their heads together like Moe.

Superman with Hitler and Tojo. Hopefully he’s about to clunk their heads together like Moe.

The SS simply didn’t like competition. For them, there could only be one race of Supermen on the planet, and some super strong American wearing a cape, who flew around and saved people’s lives instead of snuffing them out wasn’t going to steal the Schutzstaffel’s thunder! Just the fact that these goose-stepping morons were getting worked up enough to devote an entire article in their newspaper concerning a fictional character tells you everything you need to know about Aryan insecurities.

The link below will take you to the April 25, 1940 article taken from Das Schwarze Korps, or The Black Corps, the official newspaper of the SS. Curiously, the US was not yet even at war with the Axis Powers, and wouldn’t be for almost another twenty months.

Superman would of course outlive the Nazis and Waffen-SS that he helped beat up, depose, and detain in the fictional world at war. He helped bring Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo to be held accountable for their crimes against humanity, ensuring that truth, justice, and the American way survived. Superman was the polar opposite of the Nazis. In fact, the SS were more akin to Bizarro Superman than anything. But it sure was nice of them to worry about the minds of young Americans, whom they felt would be “poisoned” by an iconoclastic character who’s creator just happened to be their kryptonite-Jewish.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels makes an appearance on the cover of a Superman comic book.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels makes an appearance on the cover of a Superman comic book.