How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Few people have lived a life as hardcore and fulfilling as that of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow. He attended college and became the first member of his tribe to obtain a master’s degree. While working on his doctorate, he taught at the Chemawa Indian School. Then, World War II broke out and everything changed. Before he knew it, he was a full-fledged war chief.


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Medicine Crow started working at a naval shipyard in Washington before enlisting in the Army in 1943. He became an infantry scout assigned to the 103rd Infantry Division and was almost immediately sent to Europe. In keeping with Crow traditions, he went into battle donning red war paint under his uniform and a sacred eagle feather under his helmet- a chief in character just as much as battle prowess.

 

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
He embodied the warrior spirit.

(PBS: The War)

Also in line with tradition, he set out to complete the four required tasks in becoming the “War Chief of the Crow Indians,” a title reserved for only the most hardened warriors who have proved their worth with death-defying feats of combat. The requirements were as follows:

  1. Lead a successful war party on a raid.
  2. Capture an enemy weapon.
  3. Touch an enemy without killing them.
  4. Steal an enemy’s horse.

The first task was nearly inevitable for any competent platoon leader or sergeant, but Pvt. Medicine Crow didn’t have such a rank. After fighting hard on the western border of France, Medicine Crow proved himself fearless among his peers. He finally got an opportunity when his CO told him to stealthily clear out a German bunker with seven men and some TNT. He was told by his CO,

“If anyone can do this, it’s probably you.”

His CO was right. Not only did they cross German machine-gun and artillery fire, they got into the bunker and blew a hole right through the Siegfried Line without losing a single man. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions — and he completed the first of his four tasks. Rumor has it that after Medicine Crow destroyed the defenses, he jumped through the breach and was the first American GI to step foot into Nazi Germany.

 

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Medicine Crow’s success meant that it was much easier for the rest of the American troops to enter Germany though his breach.

(National Archive)

As the 103rd made its way into Germany, it wasn’t uncommon for forward scouts to get separated and flanked by the enemy. One night, Medicine Crow was alone when a Nazi soldier got the jump on him and charged headlong into combat. He charged right back, leading to a helmet-to-helmet collision that quickly devolved into a fist fight.

Medicine Crow beat the Nazi bloody and had his hands around the Nazi’s near-lifeless neck. The Nazi chose “momma” as his almost last words. Medicine Crow didn’t kill him. Instead, he took the German as a POW and confiscated his rifle, completing the next two tasks on his list.

The last task, to steal an enemy horse, seemed implausible on a battlefield dominated by tanks. Chief Medicine Crow got his chance, however, in early 1945 when his recon team found a camp for senior German staff officers. With them were nearly 50 thoroughbred race horses.

 

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
German troops relied on horses on the Eastern front, but they were very rare on the Western Front…

(National Archives)

Medicine Crow snuck into the camp in the dead of morning with nothing but some rope and his 1911. He tied the rope into a makeshift bridle and took the best horse of the group. He let out a mighty Crow war cry to herd the rest out of the corral, which woke the Germans. He had successfully gotten away with 50 horses and sang a traditional Crow war song as he returned to his men.

Joe Medicine Crow returned to his tribe after the war ended as a war hero and assumed the mantle of war chief. He was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, finished his doctorate along with three honorary PhDs, wrote almost a dozen books on military and Crow history, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for his military service and work done to improve the lives of his people. Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow passed on April 3rd, 2016 at the age of 102 and was given full military honors.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Chief Joe Medicine Crow may have passed, but legends never truly die.

(U.S. Department of the Interior)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Sherman’s bow ties’ were an ultimate ‘screw you’ to the South

The Civil War was one of the early “Total Wars” in world history, where every industrial, military, diplomatic, and economic asset on both sides of the war was pressed into service, and no holds were barred in combat, at least in the last few years of the fighting. For battlefield leaders like Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, that meant breaking the South in a way it couldn’t be fixed.


When Union officers began serious and successful forays into the Confederacy, they had to decide what infrastructure to protect and use as well as what infrastructure to destroy. If the rails would help Union supply lines, they stayed. But if the Union troops weren’t going to stick around, the rails, boats, and more needed to be destroyed as decisively as possible.

This may seem simple. After all, when it comes to railroads, you can just tear up the tracks and, voila, no train can roll down those tracks until they’re rebuilt.

But there’s a problem. The Union didn’t have the logistics capability to ship all the iron from the rails back north to use. So it would have to remain in place. But when troops tore up the rails and then moved on, Confederate troops and workers would slip right back in and fix the rails within hours or days.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

(Young Folk’s History of the War for the Union)

So, soon after Sherman began his drive toward Atlanta and what would eventually lead to his March to the Sea, he issued a new special order to his army.

Major-General McPherson will move along the railroad toward Decatur and break the telegraph wires and the railroad. In case of the sounds of serious battle he will close in on General Schofield, but otherwise will keep every man of his command at work in destroying the railroad by tearing up track, burning the ties and iron, and twisting the bars when hot. Officers should be instructed that bars simply bent may be used again, but if when red hot they are twisted out of line they cannot be used again. Pile to ties into shape for a bonfire, put the rails across, and when red hot in the middle, let a man at each end twist the bar so that its surface become spiral. General McPherson will dispatch General Garrard’s cavalry eastward along the line of the railroad to continue the destruction as far as deemed prudent.

That excerpt is from Sherman’s Headquarters on July 18, 1864, with orders for the next day. Soon, Sherman’s men were marching across Georgia, twisting rails into a spiral so they could never be properly repaired.

The soldiers usually did this by building the bonfire as described in the order and then wrapping the rails all the way around a tree. Twisting the rails around something allowed them to do the deed without having to heat the rails quite as hot. And while bent instead of twisted rails could be repaired, the rails on the trees were bent around back onto themselves, incorporating a small twist and leaving a tree in the middle of it.

Well-twisted rails had to be sent back to a foundry to be melted down, and the South simply did not have enough foundry space and manpower to do that for the majority of the damaged rails.

As Sherman’s army left all these twisted rails in their wake, many of them dangling from trees, the distinctive decor became known as “Sherman’s Neckties,” or bow ties or whatever the viewer’s favorite accessory for the neck was.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

(Bubba73/Jud McCranie, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This new tactic would sideline some rail lines for the duration of the war. Some would be rebuilt relatively quickly. The town of Meridian, Mississippi, prided itself on restoring its rails in “26 working days.” But that’s still a month that the rail line was out of commission.

Sherman’s aggression would pay off. Where his men marched, the Confederate war machine was often irrecoverably broken. This would eventually be a cost for the U.S. government during reconstruction, but Sherman’s success is partially credited with saving Lincoln’s re-election campaign. And Sherman followed that up by taking Savannah and then burning Columbia.

Look, Sherman really wanted to end the war. And if that meant he would be seen as a monster by the South for generations, well, he could accept that.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this actual combat footage from the Battle of the Philippine Sea

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was the kick that broke down the door to the Philippines and the Japanese home islands during World War II. The American 5th Fleet squared off against the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Mobile Fleet in a fight that would help decide the success of the ongoing Marine invasion of the Marianas Islands and determine which side controlled the air surrounding Japan.

This footage from the Smithsonian Channel shows what sailors and pilots actually experienced during the largest ever carrier-to-carrier battle.


www.youtube.com

The battle took place June 19-20 when Japanese Adm. Ozawa Jisaburo sent the bulk of Japan’s remaining fleet at the larger, stronger, and better-trained American fleet.

It was to be a gamble for the Japanese no matter what, but it’s impossible that Jisaburo knew just how badly the next two days would go for him and the rest of the Japanese forces. The Japanese chose this engagement as the “decisive battle,” and pitted all serviceable ships and planes in range into the fight in order to break the back of the American amphibious forces.

But problems for Japan began before the battle. On June 15, an American sub spotted the Japanese fleet headed toward the islands, allowing the U.S. commanders to favorably redistribute their forces for the massive surface and aerial fight to come.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

A plane lands on the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

(U.S Navy)

The American fleet had a thick screen of anti-aircraft guns on battleships and heavy cruisers positioned ahead of the escort and fleet carriers. They had almost twice as many carriers and about 20 percent more planes. U.S. pilots and crews were well-trained veterans flying against predominantly green, under-trained pilots that were rushed into place after previous losses, like the Battle of Midway.

As Japan’s first wave thundered toward the American fleet, U.S. defenders picked them up on radar and began attacking them with anti-aircraft fire as planes readied for take off. The U.S. AA fire was tipped by a then-top-secret piece of technology, the proximity fuse.

These fuses used radar to determine their distance from a plane and then detonated at an optimal range, drastically increasing the chance that shrapnel would kill the pilot or destroy the targeted plane.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Fleet tries to maneuver out of harm’s way June 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

(U.S. Navy)

And then the U.S. planes took to the air. The Americans, with better crews and radar, facing Japanese wings broken up by anti-aircraft fire, were able to absolutely slaughter the enemy. It would later be described as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” The Japanese units suffered so much damage that some lost their way back to ship and were attacked while trying to reach the friendly airfield on Guam.

But of course, a group of naval aviators in a carrier battle don’t want to just take down the enemy planes — they also want a piece of the carriers. Sinking just one of those can set the enemy industry back a few years’ worth of mining, smelting, and ship construction.

American planes failed to find the Japanese fleet on the first day of battle, but U.S. submarines spotted two fleet carriers, the Taiho and Shokaku, and sank them with torpedoes.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

A Japanese carrier attempts to outmaneuver American bombs and other ordnance during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

(U.S. Navy)

Overnight, the two fleets maneuvered around one another and put planes up once again the following morning. Again, the forces clashed and America came away the clear winner. The American planes hunted for the fleet and, this time, spotted it late in the afternoon.

Despite the setting sun, America decided to press it’s luck and a torpedo plane managed to sink a third Japanese fleet carrier, the Hiyo.

All told, America destroyed well over 500 aircraft, sank five ships (including three carriers), and protected the invasion forces at Saipan. The engagement cost the U.S. over 100 sailors and aircraft as well as a battleship, but so weakened the Japanese navy that it was seen as a sort of second Midway, permanently tipping the balance of power even further in America’s direction.

Articles

Young Chesty Puller dreamed of being a soldier

That’s right, Marine Corps legend and one of America’s greatest fighters from any branch Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a true American Iron Man, spent his childhood dreaming of being a soldier.


How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Yeah, this guy was almost a soldier. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Army guys, before you go too nuts with this information, keep in mind that Puller ended up joining the Marine Corps because he was inspired by the Marines’ legendary performance at the Battle of Belleau Wood and because the Corps gave him a chance at leading troops in World War I before it was over.

Yeah, Chesty changed his service branch preferences for the most Puller reason ever: he thought the Marines would let him draw more blood, sooner.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
There was a lot of blood to be had in Belleau Wood. (U.S. Marine Corps museum)

Puller grew up as a tough kid and the descendant of soldiers who fought in the Civil War. His grandfather and many other relatives fought for the Confederacy while a great uncle commanded a Union division.

His grandfather was a major who had died riding with Jeb Stuart at Kelly’s Ford. Confederate Maj. John W. Puller had been riding with Maj. Gen. Tomas Rosser when a cannon ball took much of his abdomen out. He continued riding a short distance despite his wounds but died on the battlefield.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
A Harper’s Weekly illustration of the Battle of Kelly’s Ford where Maj. John Puller was killed by cannon fire. (Illustration: Public Domain)

The young Lewis Puller grew up on the stories of his grandfather and other prominent Confederate soldiers in the town, and it fueled a deep interest in the military for him. At the time, the Marine Corps was a smaller branch that had fulfilled mostly minor roles on both sides of the Civil War, meaning that there were few war stories from them for Puller to hear.

He even tried to join the Richmond Blues, a light infantry militia, during the U.S. expedition to capture Pancho Villa, but was turned away due to his age.

Those stories and Puller’s love of the outdoors naturally led him to the Virginia Military Institute, a college which, at the time, sent most of its candidates to Army service (now, cadets can choose from any of the four Department of Defense branches).

At the institute, Puller was disappointed by the nature of training. He wanted more time in the woods and working with weapons, but the school’s rifles had been taken by the Army for use in World War I. After only a year of training, Puller told his cousin Col. George Derbyshire, the commandant of cadets of the school, that he would not be returning to VMI the following year.

As Burke Davis relates in his book Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller, Derbyshire tried to get Puller to stay but Puller was thirsty for combat:

“I hope you’re coming back next year, Lewis.”

“No, sir. I’m going to enlist in the Marines.”

“Why?”

“Well, I’m not old enough to get a commission in the Army, and I can get one in the Marines right away. I don’t want the war to end without me. I’m going with the rifles. If they need them, they need me, too.”

His decision came as the Battle of Belleau Wood was wrapping up, a fight which greatly enhanced the Marine Corps’ reputation in the military world. Puller went to Richmond, Virginia, and enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 27, 1918, the day after his 20th birthday and the end of the Battle of Belleau Wood.

Unfortunately for him, he wouldn’t make it to Europe in time for World War I. Instead, he was assigned to train other Marines and achieved his commission as a second lieutenant just before the Marine Corps drew down to a peacetime force, putting many commissioned officers on the inactive list, including Puller.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Puller being award a Navy Cross by Gen. Oliver PP. Smith in Nicaragua, ca. 1931. (Photo: Public Domain)

But Puller resigned his commission to return to active service and went to Haiti and Nicaragua where he performed well enough to regain his butterbar and claw his way up the ranks, allowing him to make his outsized impact on World War II and the Korean War.

Many of the details from this story come from Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis. It’s available in print or as an ebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 unusual military units

From a faith-based U.S. Army unit to an entire “ghost” army, take a look at the four most unusual military units of all time.


How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

An inflatable tank, styled after the M4 Sherman (Wikimedia Commons)

The Ghost Army

Inspired by a trick that the British pulled in North Africa, the summer of 1944 found soldiers of the U.S. Army undertaking a very unusual task – building a phantom army. To achieve this goal, the Army gathered artists, designers and sound effects experts to encourage confusion behind enemy lines. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is better known as the Ghost Army because it used inflatable rubber tanks and jeeps, along with sound effects and subterfuge to deceive Germans during WWII.

The 23rd took part in more than 20 missions, many of which used illusion and artistry that rivals any Hollywood set. Painters and illustrators worked collaboratively to design uniforms and create dummy vehicles. Sound engineers helped by broadcasting phony radio traffic and mimicked the sounds of an army on the move. There were even actors hired to spread misinformation that would hopefully get picked up by Nazi spies.

The Germans fell for it, and the ruse worked. With the Ghost Army in place, Germany had no clear idea of the US forces’ actual size. The Ghost Army was so convincing that they were even plugged a hole in General Patton’s lines for several days without being discovered. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Ghost Army’s contribution became public knowledge, and by then, many of its members had gone on to illustrious careers in art and design.

The Monuments Men

This particular unit was tasked with attempting to preserve Europe’s cultural heritage during WWII. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archies unit included handpicked art historians, museum curators and academics who skirted the front lines of combat to prevent historically essential buildings and art from being destroyed.

Members from the unit created special maps for the Allies to ensure that culturally significant structures weren’t inadvertently destroyed as the Allies pushed deeper into Europe. To do this, the unit drew plans that showed aircraft pilots where to avoid on bombing runs. While the war was in full swing, the Monuments Men even set about restoring landmarks that were already damaged.

As the war wound down, the unit shifted its focus from preservation to rescue. It tracked down and recovered sculptures and paintings looted by the Nazis. As the Nazi regime crumbled, Monuments Men found thousands of pieces of art stolen from Jewish families and museums. Most of these pieces of art were placed deep in salt mines and castles to avoid detection. The Monuments Men did their part in finding the pieces, and then after the war, the artwork was returned to its original owners.

The Mormon Battalion

Composed entirely of Latter Day Saints service members, the Mormon Battalion has the unique and unusual honor of being the only faith-based battalion in all of U.S. Army history. When negotiations between Brigham Young’s church leaders and the US military reached an impasse, it was suggested that a battalion be formed made up of all Mormons. The Mormons hoped their unit might pave the way for their planned exodus to the American West by providing training, equipment and pay. But President Polk saw it as a way to make allies of the Latter Day Saints.

The 500-person battalion never saw any combat, but it became one of the most well-traveled units in all of American history. The service members marked the start of their service by making a grueling might from Iowa through indigenous lands all the way to Santa Fe. From there, they marched on through the untamed lands of Arizona and then to southern California. Once in SoCal, the battalion performed garrison duty in both San Diego and Los Angeles.

Just two years after being formed, the battalion was retired in July 1847. Most of its members headed back north to the Utah Territory to join the rest of their religious pioneers.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

King Frederick William I (Wikimedia Commons)

The Potsdam Giants

Everyone always wants to have the biggest army, but for King Frederick William I of Prussia, the idea of having the strongest soldiers in the world was an obsession. At the start of the 18th Century, the monarch tried to gather the tallest troops he could find in all of Europe and create an elite regiment called the “Potsdam Giants.” Records indicate that several of the service members were over seven feet tall.

To entice this elite unit, King Willian spent a fortune hiring tall soldiers from other militaries in the world. He even instructed his own covert agents to conscript unusually tall civilians into the unit. At one point, William tried to encourage his tallest soldiers to marry tall women. The unit eventually disbanded, but not before William managed to spend a significant amount of money.

From a ghost army to a unit dedicated to preserving history, these four units prove that there’s a lot more to being part of a military than just standing in formation.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.

The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.


How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”

The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.

On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.

The note read:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”

The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This battle in North Africa was Germany’s Dunkirk miracle

When German and Italian forces began to collapse in Sicily in World War II, it became clear that they could either fight to the last man or could evacuate the 100,000 men and gear to Italy to man a series of defensive lines that would cost the Allies years to conquer. They launched a massive evacuation as armored generals George Patton and Bernard Montgomery raced for their blood.


How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

The Liberty Ship Robert Rowan explodes after suffering multiple bomb hits during Operation Husky. The ship had been filled with vital ammunition that, when burning, was also volatile.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, was not without its flaws and screw-ups, but the Allied troops tore open a gap on the beaches and then pressed themselves against the Axis lines, driving back German and Italian troops.

U.S. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery raced at the head of armored columns toward the port city of Messina on the island of Sicily’s east coast. Messina sat only two miles from the Italian mainland. If Germany had enough time there, it could ferry many of the 100,000 survivors to safety to fight again.

Germany had lost about 250,000 to capture in North Africa. It couldn’t afford six figures again, especially with the growing weakness of Italy as an ally. Mussolini was killed by crowds at home, and it was clear that Italian troops wouldn’t necessarily remain.

For weeks, German and Italian troops dug into the mountains, fighting delaying actions. On August 8, with the eventual collapse clear, Germany began secretly ferrying 60,000 Italian troops and about 40,000 Germans across to Italy.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

German troops and their British prisoners of war wait for the return of a ferry that would take them from Sicily to mainland Italy in August 1943.

(Bild Bundesarchiv)

The Allies knew by the next day that some sort of evacuation was underway. But just like how the Nazis failed to capitalize on the Dunkirk evacuation, so too did the Allies fail at Messina. Allied leaders remained focused on the ground fight. No ships closed the Strait of Messina, no planes took out the ports in Messina or mainland Italy.

This failure would come under scrutiny at the time and in the decades since.

Germany not only got approximately 100,000 Axis troops across, they were able to recover 2,000 tons of ammunition, 47 tanks, 94 heavy artillery pieces, and almost 10,000 vehicles, a massive success of sealift capability.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., speaks with Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard near the city of Brolo on Sicily. As the sign in the back indicates, Messina is nearby.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Of course, this made liberating Messina much easier than it otherwise would have been for Patton and Montgomery. But just like the evacuation at Dunkirk meant that Germany would have to face those troops later, the evacuation at Messina allowed Germany to reinforce itself in Italy.

This not only meant there were more German troops to kill in the defensive lines, but there were more German troops to hold Italy in the Tripartite Pact even as regular Italians wanted out.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘We would have lost’: Did U.S. lend-lease aid tip the balance in Soviet fight against Nazi Germany?

On February 24, 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft with serial number 42-32892 rolled out of a factory in Long Beach, California, and was handed over to the U.S. Air Force.

On March 12, 1943, the plane was given to the Soviet Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and given the registration USSR-N238. From there, it flew 5,650 kilometers to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, one of some 14,000 aircraft sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during World War II under the massive Lend-Lease program.


This particular C-47 was sent to the Far North and spent the war conducting reconnaissance and weather-monitoring missions over the Kara Sea. After the war, it was transferred to civilian aviation, carrying passengers over the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle. On April 23, 1947, it was forced to make an emergency landing with 36 people on board near the village of Volochanka on the Taimyr Peninsula.

On May 11, 1947, 27 people were rescued, having spent nearly three weeks in the icebound wreck. The captain, two crew members, and six passengers had left earlier in an ill-fated effort to get help. The body of the captain, Maksim Tyurikov, was found by local hunters about 120 kilometers from the wreck in 1953. The others were never found.

The plane spent 69 years on the tundra before a Russian Geographical Society expedition rescued it in 2016 and returned the wreckage to Krasnoyarsk.

“I knew that its place was in a museum,” Vyacheslav Filippov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force reserve who has written extensively about the Lend-Lease program’s Siberian connection, told RFE/RL at the time. “It was not just some piece of scrap metal. It is our living history. This Douglas is the only Lend-Lease aircraft that remains in Russia.”

An estimated 25 million Soviet citizens perished in the titanic conflict with Nazi Germany between June 1941 and May 1945. Overcoming massive defeats and colossal losses over the first 18 months of the war, the Red Army was able to reorganize and rebuild to form a juggernaut that marched all the way to Berlin. But the Soviet Union was never alone: Months before the United States formally entered the war, it had already begun providing massive military and economic assistance to its Soviet ally through the Lend-Lease program.

From the depths of the Cold War to the present day, many Soviet and Russian politicians have ignored or downplayed the impact of American assistance to the Soviets, as well as the impact of the entire U.S.-British war against the Nazis.

A Soviet report by Politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky in 1948 asserted that the United States, described as “the head of the antidemocratic camp and the warrior of imperialist expansion around the world,” contributed materiel during the war that amounted to just 4.8 percent of the Soviet Union’s own wartime production.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

A map of lend-lease shipments from the United States to the U.S.S.R. from 1941-45.

The Short History Of The Great Patriotic War, also from 1948, acknowledged the Lend-Lease shipments, but concluded: “Overall this assistance was not significant enough to in any way exert a decisive influence over the course of the Great Patriotic War.”

Nikolai Ryzhkov, the last head of the government of the Soviet Union, wrote in 2015 that “it can be confidently stated that [Lend-Lease assistance] did not play a decisive role in the Great Victory.”

Such assessments, however, are contradicted by the opinions of Soviet war participants. Most famously, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin raised a toast to the Lend-Lease program at the November 1943 Tehran conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

“I want to tell you what, from the Russian point of view, the president and the United States have done for victory in this war,” Stalin said. “The most important things in this war are the machines…. The United States is a country of machines. Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.”

Nikita Khrushchev offered the same opinion.

“If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war,” he wrote in his memoirs. “One-on-one against Hitler’s Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me.”

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941.

The Lend-Lease act was enacted in March 1941 and authorized the United States to provide weapons, provisions, and raw materials to strategically important countries fighting Germany and Japan — primarily, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. In all, the United States shipped billion (8 billion in 2020 money) worth of materiel under the program, including .3 billion to the Soviet Union. In addition, much of the billion worth of aid sent to the United Kingdom was also passed on to the Soviet Union via convoys through the Barents Sea to Murmansk.

Most visibly, the United States provided the Soviet Union with more than 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 aircraft, 8,000 tractors and construction vehicles, and 13,000 battle tanks.

However, the real significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet war effort was that it covered the “sensitive points” of Soviet production — gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and so on, says historian Boris Sokolov.

“In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler,” Sokolov wrote in an essay for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

British Matilda tanks are loaded onto a ship for transportation to the U.S.S.R. as part of the Lend-Lease program.

Under Lend-Lease, the United States provided more than one-third of all the explosives used by the Soviet Union during the war. The United States and the British Commonwealth provided 55 percent of all the aluminum the Soviet Union used during the war and more than 80 percent of the copper.

Lend-Lease also sent aviation fuel equivalent to 57 percent of what the Soviet Union itself produced. Much of the American fuel was added to lower-grade Soviet fuel to produce the high-octane fuel needed by modern military aircraft.

The Lend-Lease program also provided more than 35,000 radio sets and 32,000 motorcycles. When the war ended, almost 33 percent of all the Red Army’s vehicles had been provided through Lend-Lease. More than 20,000 Katyusha mobile multiple-rocket launchers were mounted on the chassis of American Studebaker trucks.

In addition, the Lend-Lease program propped up the Soviet railway system, which played a fundamental role in moving and supplying troops. The program sent nearly 2,000 locomotives and innumerable boxcars to the Soviet Union. In addition, almost half of all the rails used by the Soviet Union during the war came through Lend-Lease.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

A monument in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the American pilots who flew almost 8,000 U.S. planes to Alaska and to the Soviet pilots who flew them on to Siberia as part of Lend-Lease.

“It should be remembered that during World War I, the transportation crisis in Russia in 1916-17 that did a lot to facilitate the February Revolution [which lead to the abdication of the tsar] was caused by a shortage in the production of railway rails, engines, and freight cars because industrial production had been diverted to munitions,” Sokolov wrote. “During World War II, only the supplies brought in by Lend-Lease prevented the paralysis of rail transport in the Soviet Union.”

The Lend-Lease program also sent tons of factory equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union, including more than 38,000 lathes and other metal-working tools. Such machines were of higher quality than analogues produced in the Soviet Union, which made a significant contribution to boosting Soviet industrial production.

American aid also provided 4.5 million tons of food, 1.5 million blankets, and 15 million pairs of boots.

“In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid,” Sokolov wrote. “Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats.”

In 1963, KGB monitoring recorded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov saying: “People say that the allies didn’t help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Vietnamese and U.S. Navy SEALs worked together in this famous rescue

During the famous rescue of navigator “Bat 21 Bravo,” a U.S. and a Vietnamese Navy SEAL took the lead role in a dangerous operation behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, rescuing two aviators with no friendly losses despite running into enemy patrols and positions during the 11-day ordeal.


How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Numerous attempts to destroy North Vietnamese resistance from the air and rescue the downed aviators by helicopter failed, causing 14 American deaths and additional casualties before air rescue was outlawed for the men.

(U.S. Air Force)

While the rescue was widely popularized in a movie and book, both named Bat 21, the stories told were written before the events were declassified, so they were highly fictionalized to ensure that no sensitive information was inadvertently released.

But the true story is more amazing. Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton was forced to eject over Vietnam on April 2, 1972, triggering a mad dash by the U.S. to recover him before he was captured. Then, multiple rescue attempts went sideways in the first week. Seven more aircraft were lost, 14 Americans were killed, two were captured, and a new aviator was missing behind enemy lines. The theater commander forbid more helicopter extractions and the SEALs were ordered up.

A U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. j.g. Tom Norris, led the mission alongside a Vietnamese Sea Commando team with its own lieutenant team leader.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

An Air Force composite photo shows the tough terrain that the downed aviators had to cross to reach the river in hopes of rescue in April 1972.

(U.S. Air Force)

The men started by swimming their way up the river as the two targets of their rescue were directed to move to the river and start floating down. The aviators were given coded directions that combined landmarks from their home states and their hobbies. Clark was rescued on April 10, but Hambleton had trouble reaching the river.

Hambleton finally reached the river on the night of April 11, but the SEAL command post, meanwhile, had come under artillery barrage and two of the Vietnamese commandos had to be evacuated. The rest of the team was increasingly hesitant to risk their necks for American service members.

An April 11 rescue attempt with four members failed, and two of the Vietnamese commandos were obviously too frightened to continue.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Viet Cong irregulars move through a river in shallow boats like the one used by U.S. and Vietnamese commandos during the rescue of Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton in April 1972.

(U.S. Army)

So, Norris asked for volunteers to make another, even deeper penetration into NVA territory. Nguyen was the only volunteer. The two men stole a sampan from a bombed-out village, disguised themselves as fisherman, and started making their way back upriver during the night of April 13.

The two commandos nearly ran into enemy troops multiple times despite the dark, but managed to get their hands on Hambleton, weak and confused from his ordeal in the jungle. They started back towards friendly lines, but were spotted and had to fight a running gun battle down the river.

They were forced to pass NVA position after position, taking fire at each point and trying to keep their wounded, sick, and delirious package alive. Norris was forced to call in multiple airstrikes, and the Air Force dropped smoke bombs after their explosives to create a screen for the SEALs to maneuver behind.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton after his rescue.

(U.S. Air Force)

Finally, the three men made it back to friendly lines and were able to get Hambleton to medical care. For their efforts, both the Vietnamese and the U.S. SEAL would be awarded medals for valor.

Nguyen received the Navy Cross while Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor for his days of risky search and rescue.

Nguyen was ineligible for the Medal of Honor because he was not an American service member. He was admitted to U.S. SEAL schools following the ordeal, though, and graduated the underwater demolition team course and the SEAL advanced course. He later became an American citizen.

Articles

These are the jets that the last man to walk on the moon flew

With the passing of Gene Cernan, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut on Jan. 16, 2017, the last man to walk on the moon has left us. While many remember him for that, it should be noted that Cernan was also a naval aviator.


According to his NASA biography, Cernan had over 5,000 flight hours in jets. While NASA notes that Cernan served with VA-26 and VA-112, his Popular Mechanics obituary has him flying with VA-126 and VA-112, and his memoirs place him with VA-126 and VA-113. According to airportjournals.com, during his basic flight training, Cernan flew the T-34, T-28, and F9F Panther.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
John Glenn standing beside the damage to the tail of his F9F Panther from antiaircraft fire after a mission during the Korean War. Gene Cernan flew the F9F Panther during flight training. (Ohio State University)

According to seaforces.org, VA-126 was a Fleet Replacement Squadron, and equipped with the FJ-4B Fury, and the F9F-8 and F9F-8T versions of the Cougar. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the F9F-8 Cougar was quickly rendered obsolete as a front-line jet due to new designs, but it did provide service as a fighter-bomber.

The F9F-8T was a two-seat trainer version of the F9F-8, Baugher notes that it stayed in service far longer than its single-seat counterpart. They were later re-designated F-9J and TF-9J in 1962.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
A F9F-8 Cougar with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Gene Cernan flew the F9F-8 during his time with VA-126. (U.S. Navy photo)

The FJ-4B Fury was a modification of the FJ-4 Fury, which was a navalized version of the famed F-86 Saber, the air-superiority fighter that controlled the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. According to Baugher, the FJ-4B was a fighter-bomber, armed with four 20mm cannons and able to carry up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-12 Bullpup. The FJ-4B could also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
FJ-4B Fury with VA-126. During his time with that squadron, Cernan flew the FJ-4B. (U.S. Navy photo)

When he was assigned to the fleet, Cernan flew the legendary A-4 Skyhawk with either VA-112 or VA-113, depending on the source. According to seaforces.org, both squadrons were equipped with the A-4B Skyhawk (then designated the A4D-2) when Cernan deployed on board USS Shangri-La in 1958 and in 1960.

Joe Baugher notes that the A-4B was capable of carrying a Mk 28 nuclear warhead. It also could carry the AGM-12 Bullpup, had two 20mm cannons, and the ability to haul up to 5,000 pounds of bombs.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
An A-4B Skyhawk. Gene Cernan made two deployments with VA-113 and flew the A-4B. (U.S. Navy photo)

As a NASA astronaut, Cernan also flew T-38 Talon supersonic trainers. According to a NASA release, the T-38s are used to keep astronauts current, and pilots are required to have 15 hours per month of flight time.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Two NASA T-38s fly past the Space Shuttle launch pad. Gene Cernan got 15 flight hours a month in the T-38 to maintain proficiency as an astronaut. (NASA photo)

Gene Cernan walked on the moon, but let’s not forget the fact that he also flew a lot of cool planes much closer to Earth.

popular

This is the first woman killed in action in Vietnam

Although women were not allowed in combat positions in the military until way after the Vietnam War, that doesn’t mean that women were not in harm’s way during their service as nurses. Women have held nursing positions aiding the military as far back as the Civil War, and the Vietnam War was no exception. Sharon Ann Lane was the first woman killed in action in Vietnam. 


 

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Lane upon graduating from nursing school.

 

Sharon Ann Lane was one such nurse. She joined the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve on April 18, 1968, as a 2nd Lieutenant. Her first assignment was at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver, Colo., where she was promoted and sent off to Travis Air Force Base with orders to Vietnam.

During her time in Vietnam, Lane was assigned to the 312th Evac Hospital at Chu Lai. She was attached to the Intensive Care Ward before being appointed to the Vietnamese ward 4, where Lane worked five days a week, 12 hrs a day. Lane continuously denied transfers because she dedicated herself to nursing our critically injured American soldiers in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU), which she volunteered to do in her free time.

 

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Lane’s photo on the Virtual Wall memorial page.

 

Although the hospital had been attacked many times, she constantly reassured her patients that things were “still very quiet around here…haven’t gotten mortared in a couple of weeks now.”

Also read: These daring Russian women in aging aircraft haunted Nazi dreams

On June 8, 1969, a rocket hit the Evac Hospital, striking ward 4 and killing two people, while injuring twenty-seven. Lane was among the two that perished in the attack, due to fragmentation wounds to the chest. Lane was only twenty-five years old when she was killed in action and also the only American nurse of eight to die due to enemy fire.

 

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
The statue of Lane erected in front of her nursing school.

 

Lane was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for her valiant efforts in providing the best medical care to our wounded warriors and giving her life for her country. The Daughters of the American Revolution honored Lane in 1969, by naming her Nurse of the Year. A statue was erected in her image in front of Aultman Hospital, her Nursing school Alma Mater, a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice she made for her country. Although she was killed in Vietnam, this is one woman who is not forgotten.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How attacking Israel on a holiday backfired and turned into a rout

Arab armies have never had good luck fighting Israel. Israeli independence should have been a long shot in the first place, but they were just too good for the neighboring Arab countries. In 1967, when Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, a move Israel flat-out told Egypt would cause a war, Egypt was ready for Israel – on paper, anyway. That war lasted six days. Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq together could not bring the IDF down.

But in 1973, they were going to try again and this time, it was going to be a surprise.


How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Even though the Egyptians experienced initial successes, the real surprise would be getting their asses handed to them.

Israel was largely unprepared for two-pronged invasion through the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria for many reasons. Israeli intelligence knew about troop build-ups but wrote them off as training maneuvers. It was the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, after all. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ignored a warning from King Hussein of Jordan, the IDF ignored the fact that Soviet advisors left Egypt and Syria with their families, so when Yom Kippur, the holiest day for the Jewish religion, came around, the Israelis let their guard down.

That’s when the Arabs attacked.

Some 100,000 Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal with 1,300 tanks and 2,000 artillery guns, all protected by an umbrella of surface-to-air missile batteries to keep the Israeli Air Force – the reason the Arabs lost the Six-Day War – at bay. Facing the Egyptians were only 290 Israeli tanks housed in a scattering of fortresses along the canal, inadequate defenses to hold the Peninsula. Luckily for Israel, the Egyptians seemed to slow down when they approached the end of the SAM batteries’ range. This lull would prove critical to the Arab defeat.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

The Israelis at first concentrated on the Syrian invasion, considering it posed a much more vital threat to Israeli heartland, while the fighting with Egypt remained largely in the Sinai Peninsula. Once the Syrians were forced back and were on the defensive, the IDF was able to turn its attention to the Egyptian invaders. The Egyptians had just attempted to advance beyond their SAM shield by throwing a thousand tanks at reinforced Israeli defenses. Its losses were mounting and the time was right for a counterattack. It turns out the surprise that had allowed for Egypt’s initial successes was also the reason for its eventual defeat.

With so many Israelis at home for the holiday, the roads were remarkably clear, making it so much easier for Israeli reserves to activate and get to where they needed to be. After detecting a gap in the Egyptian lines, the Israelis planned their counterattack. Once the Israeli reserve forces were in place, they waited for a way to reduce Egypt’s armor strength before pouring through the gap and invading Egypt across the Suez. When Egypt threw its armor at Israeli defenses, that gave the IDF the chance it needed.

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII

Israeli tanks crossing the Suez in a surprise move of their own.

Commandos and tanks started striking surface radar and SAM sites, allowing the Israeli Air Force to operate with greater impunity. Instead of standing their ground, the Egyptians withdrew their SAM batteries, leaving their forces defenseless from the air. Israeli troops began to flow across the Suez Canal, hitting artillery positions, defensive fortifications, and even driving on major cities. The IDF advanced within 100 kilometers of Cairo before a UN-imposed cease-fire took effect, occupying 1,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s territory, and no defenses standing between the IDF and the Egyptian capital.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Third Army was completely cut off from resupply and surrounded, surely to be annihilated if the fighting continued. The Arab armies were humiliated by Israel once again, in just two short weeks. This time, however, would be the last time. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter successfully negotiated an end to hostilities between Egypt and Israel, an accord that has never been broken and may not ever have happened without the surprise defeat of Egypt in 1973.

Articles

This is the disease Hitler hid from the public for years

Towards the end of WWII, allied forces gained much-needed ground on diminished German forces while Adolf Hitler was carefully concealing a dark secret from his devoted followers.


Years prior, Hitler was seen in several propaganda films walking tall and strong. As time progressed, detailed media footage was limited as the Führer showed signs of a major debilitating disease.

The German leader tried to hide his declining posture, stumbling walk and hand tremors during his public appearances. Theodore Morell was Hitler’s devoted personal physician for nine years but missed the critical condition — Parkinson’s disease.

Related: This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

How this school teacher became a war chief in WWII
Theodor Morell is shown here standing behind his patient — Adolf Hitler. (Source: Smithsonian Channel/YouTube/Screenshot)

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurological disorder which disrupts the function of nerve cells in the brain.

After the bombing of Hitler’s East Prussia Headquarters in a plot to kill the Nazi party leader in 1944, his symptoms seemed to wane — but for only a short period.

At the time, Morell had already taken notice of Hitler’s condition, documenting it in a journal back in 1941 and years later labeling the neurological disorder as stress related.

Advanced Parkinson’s usually leads to slower reaction times and delusions — all requiring constant medical care. It wasn’t until the final days of the war that Morell would make the correct diagnosis.

As forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, Hitler’s delay in ordering a defense may have been a result of the Parkinson’s.

Ultimately, Adolf Hitler died on April 30th, 1945, as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Führerbunker in Berlin.

Also Read: Hitler’s nephew earned a Purple Heart with the US Navy during WWII

Check out the Smithsonian’s Channel video to view how Hitler attempted to mask his Parkinson’s in his last years of his rule.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)