Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Old Man's Christmas

We'll leave tropical Luzon for a while, and return after Christmas.  Meanwhile, take a trip down memory lane to Italy during wartime, and see what the troops have for General Waverly.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Redemption Raid

Cabanatuan Barracks

Members of the 6th Rangers.

Now, the raid on Cabanatuan.  

One thing about the Pacific campaign that stands out to me is that there weren't a lot of special forces troops involved..  You don't read about a lot of airborne drops, Ranger operations and the like, such as you do in the war against the Nazis.  One of the subjects I want to cover in the future is the density of special troops in the Italian campaign - you may be surprised at how much of that conflict was at a special operations level.

On the other hand, one could make the argument that the whole Pacific campaign was a special op.  I mean, the British looked at amphibious warfare as a special tactic, and formed their whole Commando forces under what they dubbed "Combined Operations," which meant amphibious assault.  So, every Army unit that went over a beach in the Pacific could fall under that definition.

The Marine Corps traditionally resisted the phrase, "special forces,"  for their few special-task men, like Raiders or snipers. They considered their whole corps to be special forces.  In an egalitarian way, the whole Pacific war land forces were amphibious operators, and special tasks were their common forte.

This being the case, then, the stories of what are usually described as special forces troops operating in the Pacific Theater are few.  There were Merrill's Marauders, who fought in Burma.  Also, the Marine Raiders, who took part in raids on Makin Island and the Solomons.  Consider, too, the 503rd Parachute Infantry, US Army, who parachuted onto Corrigedor.

But the raid on Cabanatuan was the first operation, fought all the way near the end of the war, in late January, 1945, for the 6th Ranger Battalion of the US Army.  The rest of the Ranger units, 1st through 5th battalions, fought the Nazis in Europe and the Mediterranean Theater.  And, coincidentally, by the start of 1945, the last year of the war, these Ranger battalions had mostly been  attrited or broken up and scattered among various infantry units.  Their utility, in the time when all armies were converging onto a contiguous area, Germany, was considered not critical.  However, in the Philippines, General Walter Krueger, commanding the US Sixth Army, had much fighting ahead and needed special operators for tough tasks.

The tough task that presented itself in the early days of the invasion of Luzon, The Philippines, was what would become known as The Great Raid.  This raid was necessitated by the cruel treatment, and potential killing, of the prisoners at the large POW camp at Cabanatuan.   These prisoners were the Battling Bastards of Bataan, the survivors of the Bataan Death March and now survivors of over 2 years of cruel imprisonment where starvation and summary execution were ever-present perils. Two-thirds of the American prisoners from Bataan died in captivity.

General Kruger wanted to try to rescue these allied and American prisoners whom he feared might be massacred as his troops moved off the beaches and approached the POW camp.  He had available the Alamo Scouts, the 6th Rangers and a contingent of the excellent Philippine Scouts.

Next: the players.

The Great Raid on Cabanatuan.
Hour of redemption: The ranger raid on Cabanatuan.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movie Motivation

If you are like me, then you are a fan of WW II movies.  But, since I have a military background, I tend to favor the nuts and bolts of battle over drama and cine-craft.  The Great Raid, about the raid on Cabanatuan, does deliver battle scenes and, for the mili-nerd, a goodly amount of planning, tactics and maneuver.  Hollywood critics find that too banal, and you might, too.

But wait, there's more.  The Great Raid also offers a love story, an account of the life of the Filipinos under Japanese occupation, and some history of a major part of the Pacific Theater, the operations in The Philippines.

When I write my own reviews, I do a quick study of what the media has written about about a movie.  The website Pop Matters had a review that the author no-doubt thought was intelligent, but in my opinion was simple snark.  About The Great Raid, she wrote, "The relationship between heroism and villainy remains reductive, subjective, and devastatingly predictable."  

One of the themes we will be developing here at On World War II will be the changing place of the war in our culture.  Is there currently a trend towards historic revision, or simply a lazy ignorance of the events of the war?  Does our Pop Matters author (name omitted intentionally) assume that her own sense of the events in the Pacific war is prevalent in our culture?  Apparently so.  I wonder what the average Filipino man on-the-street would say about this?

For my part, I was interested in how the movie went to some lengths to inform us of the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial military during WW II.  You will cringe when the movie depicts American prisoners, and at another time a Filipino nursing staff, being summarily executed with shots to the head.  Of course, this evil should require more nuance to explain (sarc/off).

In our present day, I think it's good for storytellers to give the motivation behind events in WW II.  People forget with time, or need to be told for the first time, that WW II was a war fought against evil.  Bad things happened.  The men and women who spent a short, but brilliant few years as soldiers, nurses, freedom fighters (in the case of the Filipino irregulars), and partisans were heroes in no uncertain (or nuanced) terms.

Another good movie to accompany your study of the Bataan and Philippines campaigns is Back To Bataan, with John Wayne.  It was filmed on the heels of the war, and did feature some of the Death March survivors.  But, in 1945, the references were fresh and raw, and audiences didn't need to be told what had happened in the Philippines in WW II.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Raid of Cabanatuan

The Raid of Cabanatuan, The Philippines,  was featured in the movie: The Great Raid.  In January of 1945, US Army special units and Philippine Guerrillas conducted an audacious raid to rescue prisoners of war, mostly American survivors of the Battle of Bataan.

I will review the movie, and discuss the battle in the next few days here at On World War II.  Stand ready.

Friday, December 17, 2010

5 Facts About VE Day

Five facts about VE-Day:

1. The unconditional surrender document was signed on the 7th of May, and ratified on the 8th. The allies wanted to avoid the troubles surrounding the WW I armistice by having the German High Command as signators this time.
2. No head of state was present at either the German surrender ceremony or the Japanese one on September 2, 1945.
3. The surrender in the Mediterranean Theater was the 2nd of May, 1945.
4. Susan Hibbert typed the document of surrender in English.
5. The surrender of Italy on September 3rd of 1943 had some wiggle room at first, and only later became "unconditional."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nowadays, World War II Needs a Reasoned Defense

Christopher Hitchen interviews academic and author Victor Davis Hanson for the Hoover Institution.