The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’ - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

The attack at Pearl Harbor was a surprise to the entire U.S. Navy but no one was more surprised than Lt. Cmdr. Columbus D. Smith. He was the commander of the USS Wake, a river gunboat stationed in Shanghai. 

Smith was caught so off-guard by the Japanese declaration of war that his ship was captured without firing a shot as it sat in the port of Shanghai. How the Japanese managed to take it was a devious – but not as deadly – as the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Columbus Darwin Smith was a sailor from the day he turned 18, sailing for the West Indies. When World War I broke out, he joined as an ensign and took command of a U.S. Navy sub chaser for the rest of the war. As a civilian, he found himself in Hawaii, sailing between Honolulu and Yokohama.

In 1929, he decided to stay in Shanghai and became a river pilot on the treacherous Yangtze River, long known as a hazardous route for ships due to the danger of the river – and the large number of bandits who operated on it. 

With his essential skills on the river and the situation in Asia heating up, the U.S. Navy asked Smith to take a commission and command the USS Wake, a gunboat used to secure Americans in China and secretly act as a radio spy ship. He agreed, and took command in November of 1941. 

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
USS Wake

China had been at war with Japan since 1935 and quickly captured the port city. Ever since, the Wake and its 14-man crew had a constant Japanese navy escort ever since. Since then-Lt. Cmdr. Smith had been in the country for a long time, he’d come to know many of the Japanese officers, and thought it little more than a precaution. 

When the commander got a call from a Japanese naval officer he knew well, he didn’t think much of it. The officer asked Smith where he would be on Dec. 8 (which would have been Dec. 7, 1941 in Hawaii) because he wanted to deliver a gift to him and his crew.

The gift was a number of turkeys and he not only had turkeys for the crew of the Wake, he had turkeys for every American officer and ship in the city. The Japanese officer asked Smith to put him in contact with other Americans so he could offer the same to them. It was all a ploy to learn where the Americans would in the moments following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. 

When the next morning came, Smith was at home, not aboard the ship. At 4:20 in the morning he got word from his quartermaster about the surprise attack in Hawaii. Smith quickly got dressed and found the streets filled with Japanese soldiers with fixed bayonets. He rushed back to the ship to find it under guard by Japanese troops. 

The Japanese had already begun to shell a British gunboat, the Peterel. Their ship was on fire and sinking fast. The Wake didn’t appear damaged. 

While Smith was away, the crew also learned about the attack. As the Japanese surrounded the ship, they attempted to scuttle it in Shanghai’s harbor. They were unable to finish the job and were forced to surrender the gunboat. All the Americans were taken to the Woosung Prisoner of War Camp, a village 10 miles up the Yangzte.  The Wake was refitted and renamed IJN Tatara.

The Tatara was recaptured by the Americans at the end of World War II and sold to the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek. When the Nationalists were forced to flee to Taiwan, the ship fell into the hand of the Chinese communists. 

Smith and some fellow prisoners tried to escape a few times, and were punished and tortured for each failure. They eventually managed a successful escape, evading the Japanese for 700 miles to an Allied airstrip. A C-47 cargo plane to them first to Calcutta and then to the United States.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the safest place to be in a US bomber flying through German flak in WW2

While most movies and TV series on the war over Germany in World War II focuses on the aerial duals between American P-51 Mustangs, British Spitfires and Luftwaffe fighters like the Bf-109, the Bf-110, and the FW-190, the bulk of the air casualties came from anti-aircraft guns, or “flak.”


 

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Bf 109E off North Africa. (Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s how to put those losses into some form of perspective — during one bomber raid in October, 1943, three-fourths of the bombers suffered some sort of damage from anti-aircraft fire. The German guns ranged from 20mm auto-cannon to big 128mm pieces. Perhaps the most common was the German 88mm gun, which was not only a potent anti-aircraft gun, but also a lethal tank-killer.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
A German 88mm flak gun. (Wikimedia Commons)

The crewmen who had it worst from the flak were the waist gunners, who accounted for 21.6 percent of casualties. Bombardiers and navigators, who were stationed in the very front of the plane and who had only a glass nose between them and a very long drop, also had a bad time of it, accounting for 15 percent and 13.2 percent of casualties respectively.

The safest crew member was the ball turret gunner (5.5 percent), the pilot (7.7 percent), and co-pilot (6.6 percent), who together accounted for 19.8 percent of casualties).

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

They were most likely to be hit in the legs (44 percent of the time), followed by the arms (31 percent). The development of flak vests meant that only 9 percent of casualties were hit in the chest and abdomen, while 16 percent of hits were in the head.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
A B-24 that was hit by German flak on April 10, 1945. One crewman survived. (USAF photo)

You can see a video on how and why German flak was such a threat below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The truth about why the US released ISIS’ leader in 2004

In President Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address, he mentioned that the U.S. military captured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but released him. This may have been a surprise to many watching.


“We have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi,” Trump said.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
President Trump delivers the State of the Union address to Congress, Jan. 30, 2016 (U.S. Army photo)

The U.S. did capture Baghdadi in February 2004, in the early days of the Iraq War. He was held at Camp Bucca, a prison facility in Garma, Iraq, along the country’s border with Kuwait.

But back then he was just Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, a civilian detainee. He was one of some 80,000 detainees who were held at one of four detention facilities throughout Iraq. They were a mix of petty criminals and insurgents captured in house raids over the course of the war.

Baghdadi was captured in a house raid near Fallujah in 2004; he was described by U.S. officials as a “street thug” at the time.

Nine U.S. military review boards worked six days a week reviewing the detainees’ cases over the lifetime of the prison system, resulting in 20-45 percent of captured prisoners being released.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Sgt. Adonis Francisco, Alpha Company, 2-113th Infantry Battalion, patrols along a catwalk at the Camp Bucca Theater Internment Facility, the largest detention center in Iraq. (U.S. Army photo)

The man who would become the Islamic State’s caliph was held from February to December of 2004. But the U.S. didn’t simply release him, they transferred him to the Iraqi justice system.

It was the Iraqi government who released Baghdadi.

Eventually, the 2008 U.S. Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq would set the terms for closing the prison system and moving the detainees to Iraqi custody. The American government was primarily concerned with some 200 prisoners they deemed most dangerous.

Baghdadi was not one of them.

At the time of his release, Baghdadi and the others who were released were considered “low level” and not much of a threat. After his release, he gravitated to the insurgent group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which came to be known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi around 2005.

Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in 2006. The Americans continued to systematically eliminate AQI’s leadership. In 2010, Baghdadi was promoted to a leadership position in what was left of the network.

No one really knows how Baghdadi rose in the ranks. When his name was revealed as one of the group’s leaders (which then started calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq), no one in U.S. intelligence knew any of their names. The seeds of what would become ISIS were sown.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An interview with one of the last WWII Marine fighter pilots

Sam Folsom, born July 24, 1920 in Quincy, Massachusetts, was one of the first echelon of 17 Marine fighter pilots with Marine Fighter Squadron 121 tasked with defending Guadalcanal. He is also one of the last living Marine Corps WWII combat pilot.

It was the summer of 1941, while Folsom was attending a flight training program in Jacksonville, Florida, that the unthinkable happened.

“I was lying in my bunk in Florida,” Folsom recalled. “I turned on the radio and it blared out ‘Pearl Harbor has been attacked’, so I did what any patriotic American would’ve done. I jumped to my feet, got dressed and ran to the door as fast as I could.”


Folsom completed training at the end of 1942 and received orders to Miramar, California, where he checked into his new unit, VMF-122. Later, the squadron was combined with another to form VMF-121. Folsom’s assigned fighter plane was a Grumman F4F Wildcat which he trained in for months before his unit was sent overseas to New Caledonia briefly, before being sent to Guadalcanal in early September, 1942.

“I spent six or eight months on the west coast in a squadron with about 40 pilots and only eight or 10 planes, so as you can imagine none of us got much training,” Folsom said.

Folsom arrived to the Island Oct. 8.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 in non-specular blue-grey over light-grey scheme in early 1942.

The first few days of combat were rough for Folsom. In training the highest they had ever flown was roughly 10,000 feet and previously Folsom had only fired his guns once in a training exercise. Then suddenly his unit was sent on a mission dispatched at 30,000 feet where they found themselves above a Japanese formation of G4M Betty Bombers with an escort of fighter planes. When they dived down to attack Folsom lost control. After recovering and regaining control, he closed in on the bombers and pulled the trigger only to find out his guns wouldn’t fire. Due to the lack of flying experience at this altitude the unit didn’t realize that lubricating the weapons before flying would freeze the lubricant at this high of an altitude.

“I never remember being frightened,” he said. “Just mad as hell going through this with your life on the line and having my guns not firing.”

Folsom and the other pilots had to return to base considering the conditions of their weapons.

Towards the end of the squadron’s tour, the pilots received more experience flying in support of combat operations than they ever did through their training. Later, Folsom and his squadron had found themselves above another bomber formation. The bombers had already attacked and were returning home when Folsom dived down and closed in on the two bombers.

“I closed in on two Japanese bombers, one of which was directly in my sights and I shot him down,” Folsom said. “I pulled over to the side and I shot down the other one. It was just like a training exercise.”

Eventually, Folsom was completely out of ammunition and flew back to base. The Japanese fighter planes escorting the bombers closed in on Folsom. Folsom found himself in a dogfight without any means of defense. His plane was shot multiple times, but he still managed to escape and make it back to base.
Folsom said that wasn’t the only time he found himself in a dogfight without ammunition. On one occasion, Folsom was attacked by approximately six Japanese fighter planes, which damaged his plane and wounded his left leg.

After his three-month tour in Guadalcanal he was transferred to Samoa, ending his time with VMF-121. During Folsom’s time with VMF-121 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his actions in Guadalcanal. In total, he shot down two Japanese Betty Bombers and one Japanese fighter plane. He continued his career in the Marine Corps and served nearly 18 years, retiring in 1960 as a lieutenant colonel.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

Articles

The origin of the famous ‘red phone’ in the Oval Office

In countless movies, in references across all mediums, the red phone exists. Brightly hued and highlighted through dramatic dialogue, we are shown this famous form of communication within the White House. But why is there a red phone in the first place? What does it do? And why it is so famous? After all, it’s just a phone. 

But, in actuality, it wasn’t a phone at all. Known as the Moscow-Washington Hotline, it was a direct line of communication between the White House and the Kremlin (where the Soviet Communist Headquarters resided). The line was established in 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis so that President John F. Kennedy, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev and their advisors could connect directly and quickly. 

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
“Khrushchev… your signal sucks… damn it, I lost him. That’s not good.” (DoD photo)

The need for the line was put into place after the 1962 crisis, when it took the United States 12 hours to translate a message from Khrushchev. The 3,000-word message is stated as taking a “dangerous amount of time” in translation. This prompted both sides to streamline communication. Hence, the hotline. 

The communication first consisted of teletype machines. In the ’80s it was transitioned to a fax machine, and in 2008, it became an email line connected by a secure computer link with lightning-fast connection speeds. 

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Well, that’s not red… or a phone… (Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library/ Wikimedia Commons)

Origins of the idea

There are several people who claim to have come up with the idea for direct communication, including a Harvard professor who had previously worked with the Department of Defense on nuclear war policies. The professor, Thomas Schelling, said the 1958 book Red Alert (which prompted the movie Dr. Strangelove) gave government officials the idea to connect directly– specifically, by showing the benefits of fast and direct conversations. 

After the agreement was signed, both sides began working on the logistics to lay this line, including ways to keep it secure such as encryption. The first message was sent on August 30th, 1963, including numbers and an apostrophe to ensure the connection worked properly.

The US sent: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890,” a common test message, as it includes all 26 letters of the English alphabet. The first official use was to announce the assassination of JFK to Russia.

Over the years, the line has been accidentally cut multiple times, including when it was unknowingly bulldozed in Denmark. Today, there are bright and clear markers in Finland, as well as other countries, to help keep the line free from damage. 

Why a red phone?

This scene seems to be where it all started

Because there was never an actual red phone — or a phone at all for that matter — it’s an interesting addition to pop culture. Countless movies, video games and even movies portray a fictional red phone as a quick way to reach Russia. 

So where did the idea come from? It likely came from the movie, Dr. Strangelove, itself. The idea was then used throughout the 80s in political commercials, where it took off. President Ronald Reagan used the phone to market himself, showing off his Strategic Defense Initiative. In the 80s, it made another appearance for the 1984 election. It was also used in 2008 throughout Hilary Clinton’s campaign. In years since, it’s simply become a pop culture icon that remains recognizable in movies, museums and beyond.

Feature image: Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (Wikimedia Commons)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Hitler launched an assault on Christmas itself

Nazism has always been a cancerous growth that infects everything around it. There was nothing the Socialist National German Workers’ Party wouldn’t do to erase Judaism from the face of the earth – to include the blasphemous agenda to remove Christ from Christmas. There is only one unforgivable sin in the Bible, to corrupt the word of the Holy Spirit. A World War was not enough to satiate the appetites of the Axis — a war against God was also on the table.

In the Bible’s Book of Matthew (12: 31-31), Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come.

The bastardization of Germany’s most prolific religion couldn’t be taken down on a direct assault. Hitler’s failed attempt to create a National Church proved that. Everything Christmas went against Nazi core values. So, in true Nazi fashion, they redirected their sinister, subtle plans to change it from the inside out. 

The Christmas tree itself presented another problem, the star above the tree looked very similar to the Star of David and was replaced with a Swastika or sun burst. The Fir tree was too deeply rooted in German culture to be removed from the center stage of the holiday. Advent calendars and Christmas markets were also invented in Germany.

The modern Christmas tree was developed in 16th century Germany, when Christians would bring the trees into their homes and decorate them. These trees were traditionally decorated with roses, apples, wafers, tinsel – which the Germans also invented – and sweetmeats. By the 18th century the Christmas tree was popular throughout Germany, and illuminating it with wax candles was common in town across the affluent Rhineland. In the 19th century, the Christmas tree was considered an expression of German culture, particularly from those who emigrated overseas. – The Culture Trip

Christmas was not going to be an easy battle, especially since two of the most famous Christmas carols that we know today were also created in Germany. Silent Night was composed in 1818 by Austrian Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr. It was redone Exalted Night as propaganda to bring more fame to Adolf Hitler. 

 O Tannenbaum, also known in English as O Christmas Tree, was written in 1824, by the German composer Ernst Anschütz. The original song refers to the ever greenness of the Fir tree but was adapted to be a Christmas tree as the folksong became a Christmas carol. 

Different traditions were shaped to focus on pagan traditions and erode the Christian values over time. Between the 1930’s and 1940’s had succeeded in damning an entire people. The coup de grâce against the Holy Spirit was to turn the day of peace among all men into a day of violence.

Unlike in English, Christmas is called Weihnachten in German, so the actual name of the holiday did not require modification to suit the goals of an anti-clerical Führer. Even so, the Nazis preferred a different name for Christmas: Rauhnacht, the Rough Night, which had a tantalizing hint of violence to it. – Fast Company

No religion was safe from the threat of Nazi hatred. To be a Nazi was to be an enemy of Creator, in all his names and forms. Hitler went to war against Christmas and lost.

Articles

Medal of Honor recipient who held off 9 German attacks has died

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn K. Ross died on May 9, 2017. According to a press release, Ross, who was working in a shipyard before he was drafted, was 94 years old and is survived by six children.


According to his Medal of Honor citation, Ross’s company — assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division — had taken heavy casualties in combat with elite German troops near St. Jacques, France, on Oct. 30, 1944 – losing over 60 percent of the troops. Ross then set his machine gun 10 yards ahead of the other Americans and used it to hold off German forces for eight attacks – receiving less and less help as the other troops ran out of ammunition.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Troops from the 3rd Infantry Division in Nuremburg. (US Army photo)

Ross, too, was running low. After the eighth attack, Ross was also out of ammunition. As American troops prepared for a last stand, salvation came in the form of a resupply of ammunition. Ross was able to use that ammunition to defeat the ninth and final German attack.

A profile of Ross on a VA loan site adds some more background. Ross was a dead shot, practicing a trick shot that involved using a .22 rifle to light a match. He later described how he had selected his position beforehand. He also related that he had no idea that a dead soldier he’d been shooting over wasn’t dead at all – it was an Army lieutenant who was alive, and who reported Ross’s actions.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
The Medal of Honor

Ross would be presented the Medal of Honor on April 14, 1945. During his service in World War II and in the Korean War, he’d be wounded four times. He served in the Army until 1964, when he retired  as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he raised his kids. A park in that town was named in his honor, and includes a monument that displays his Medal of Honor citation on a plaque.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the closest brushes with nuclear war was Russia vs China

As they’re now America’s two top rivals, it’s easy to forget that China and Russia aren’t allies and actually have decades of regional rivalry and have been at each other’s throats more than once. In fact, in 1970, the Soviet Union started asking around about whether or not anyone would really care if they launched a preemptive nuclear strike against China.


Ya know, for world security and all that.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

China’s first nuclear test in 1964 set off a series of dominoes that almost convinced Russia to nuke it.

(Public domain)

Russia and China try to smooth over their regional troubles in the common interest of trying to constrain America, even when Russia was the Soviet Union and the year was 1950. Russia and China sent pilots to North Korea to help fight American air power, downing and killing U.S. pilots. It was a real high-point for Soviet-Sino Relations.

But at the time, China was basically to the Soviet Union what North Korea is to China today. The Soviet Union was much larger and stronger, and it was embroiled in a battle of superpowers with the U.S. China was welcome on the playground as long as it was playing by the rules and backing up Soviet interests. But China wanted to become a nuclear power just like its big brother.

And so, in 1964, China detonated its first device, becoming the fifth country to become a nuclear power.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

Russian boats try to knock a Chinese man off of his craft in the Wasuli River during the 1969 border clashes between the two countries.

(China Photo Service, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This combined with already simmering tensions over border conflicts and brought the two countries’ relations to a low boil. Their troops fought skirmishes against one another on their shared border while both sides greatly built up their troops and their stockpiles of less-than-nuclear weapons like biological and chemical threats.

In 1969, this grew into the Sino-Soviet border conflict, a seven-month undeclared war between the two sides from March to September of that year. Moscow seemed to hope that internal divisions in China would distract Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi, the top leaders of China’s Communist Party at the time.

Instead, China called international attention to the clashes and stared Russia down. And on Zhenbao Island, Chinese and Russian troops drew serious blood with 58 dead on the Russian side and 29 dead from China. So, that summer, highly placed Soviets, including the son-in-law of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, began telling their counterparts in other nations that it might become necessary to take out China’s growing atomic arsenal by force.

In April they said that, hey, maybe the best way to do that was with surgical nuclear strikes. It was the only way to restore the peace, after all.

China and Russia agreed to bilateral talks in 1970 that eventually restored peace, so it’s possible that this was a bluff from the Soviet leaders. Maybe they believed that the threat of nuclear war could end the border clashes with no need to actually send any missiles or bombers up.

But it’s also quite possible that the threat was real. While we in the West like to think of the Cold War as an all-consuming grapple between America and the Soviet Union, the Soviets were actually holding three times as many military exercises focused on their eastern border with China in the 1960s as they spent practicing for war with the U.S. and Europe.

So, yes, the world’s first nuclear war could’ve been a clash between the Soviet Union and China, but that was thankfully averted. Unfortunately, China watched for weaknesses in the Soviet Union and, as the bloc started to crumble in the late 1980s, China made its move. While the Soviets tried to hold themselves together and America was preoccupied with finishing the fight and planning the post-Soviet world, China began an arms buildup.

And, uh, they’ve gotten stronger now. Including the nukes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That one time in 1995 when Russia almost nuked the United States

Russia almost blew the United States away with a nuclear strike in 1995 after mistakenly thinking it was under attack. If it weren’t for Russia’s then-president Boris Yeltsin, America as we know it wouldn’t exist. Under the “launch-on-warning” policy used by both nations, Russia had 30 minutes to decide to nuke us but Yeltsin only had five.


Here’s how this monumental mistake almost took place:

NOW: The US nuclear launch code during the Cold War was weaker than your granny’s AOL password

OR: Here’s the entire Cold War by the numbers

MIGHTY HISTORY

This intelligence officer was the forgotten hero of Midway

Joseph John Rochefort, the man whose decoding of the Japanese codebook led to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, had enemies other than the Empire of Japan. His feats at cryptanalysis were phenomenal, but not universally appreciated, particularly by the codebreakers in Washington, D.C. Naval jealousy and internal machinations would rob Joseph Rochefort of the honor that was due to him for his brilliant work in predicting where the Japanese fleet would strike after Pearl Harbor.

Rochefort, who had not gone to the Naval Academy, was an outsider from the beginning of his naval career. He was still in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 with the goal of being a naval aviator. He claimed to have been born in 1898 so that he would seem old enough for a military career, and didn’t even have a high school diploma when he was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Navy’s Steam Engineering School at Stevens Institute of Technology.


He wasn’t looking for a career in codebreaking. He served as a staff officer for senior admirals and and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. Years later, when Commander Chester C. Jersey was posted to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he remembered Rochefort’s affinity for crossword puzzles. It was 1925 and the Navy was looking for people who could work with codes. The newly created codebreaking outfit of the Navy, OP-20-G, at that time consisted of one man, Lieutenant Laurance F. Stafford, today credited as the father of U.S. Navy cryptology, who had been assigned to develop new codes for the Navy. Rochefort showed up and Safford conducted a six-month cryptanalyis course: Safford provided him with cryptograms to solve and Rochefort solved them. But when Stafford was assigned to sea duty the following year, Rochefort, just twenty-five years old, was the officer in charge of a staff of two.

By June 1941, Rochefort was at Pearl Harbor. By this time, the codebreaking unit had more people and, more relevance. The Japanese didn’t know that their code had been broken years before when a previous American Director of Naval Intelligence used a secret naval intelligence slush fund to finance break-ins during the early 1920s at the Japanese consulate in New York City. The Japanese Navy’s code book was furtively photographed and, over the years, translated. By the time he was sent to Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, Rochefort had the codebook. But he didn’t have the additive tables, which the Japanese frequently changed. Rochefort’s assignment was to create an accurate additive table using the raw messages that went out over the airwaves by the Japanese Navy.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

Joseph John Rochefort.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a devastating blow to the Navy, but it also galvanized the nation and its military forces into the war effort. Restoration began immediately on the naval fleet. But in order to defeat the Japanese and their intention of becoming the dominant naval power in the Pacific, the Navy knew that codebreaking was a crucial priority. Fortunately, in Joseph Rochefort, they had a codebreaker who worked tirelessly to decipher the messages of the Japanese.

Joseph Rochefort and his crew had been given the order to begin the decryption of JN-25, the central Japanese communications system. As it turned out, breaking the Japanese code would prove easier than addressing the friction between Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor and OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Captain Edwin Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer. But, because OP-20-G had given Rochefort the assignment and was more or less overseeing the network of the intercept stations, there was a turf war between Rochefort and Washington, D.C. The D.C. office wanted central control over all of the radio intelligence units.

Rochefort, who was not always as tactful as might have been politic, believed that he answered solely to Admiral Nimitz, who had been named commander of the Pacific Fleet. Layton had a great deal of respect for Rochefort’s factual reports and hard work; he, like Rochefort, was fluent in Japanese and Layton knew how much work was going into the messages that were being translated. In fact, of the five hundred to one thousand messages per day that were being deciphered, Rochefort was personally translating more than one hundred of them. Layton trusted Rochefort’s translation and his assessment, so when Rochefort called Layton on May 14, 1942, to say that he had translated part of a message which included the words “invasion force”, Layton knew it was legitimate. But the message also include an unknown reference, AF, indicating a location. But where was AF? Rochefort was convinced that the location was Midway.

Nimitz agreed with Rochefort’s analysis and ordered three aircraft carriers to return from the South Pacific. Midway was covertly warned of the threat. The Seventh Air Force at Hawaii was placed on alert, its B-17 bombers loaded with bombs ready to strike enemy ships.

Commander John Redman, who commanded OP-20-G, refused to believe that Midway was the next Japanese target, disputing Rochefort’s assertion that AF was Midway. OP-20-G said the target was more likely to be the Hawaiian Islands but thought that the real target was the American West Coast and everything else was merely a decoy.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

Captain Edwin Layton.

But Nimitz had complete confidence in Rochefort’s analysis. If Rochefort was wrong, Nimitz’s career would be imperiled. Rochefort devised a plan that would confirm that Midway was the target. The radio operators at Midway were instructed, via undersea cable, to send an uncoded message that the island’s distillation plant, which was responsible for the desalination of the island’s water supply, had broken down. Two days after the message was sent, the Japanese reported that the AF Air Unit needed to be resupplied with fresh water.

The Navy intercept unit in Australia informed Washington that AF was now confirmed to be Midway. Rochefort spent the night before Nimitz’s May 27, 1942 staff meeting reviewing all the messages. He showed up at the meeting to let them know that HYPO had broken the final piece of the JN-25 puzzle; he had a message dated for May 26 ordering the destroyer escorts for the Japanese troopships to arrive at Midway on June 6. Another decoded message said that the air attacks would begin northwest of the island several days before.

Rochefort’s reports came in the nick of time. On May 27, both the code books and the additive tables were changed and radio silence was imposed by the Japanese, denying American codebreakers access. Fortunately, Nimitz had his cues, knowing where and when the Japanese would strike.

Nimitz was not a codebreaker, but he had an instinct for the future of naval warfare and he held the radical view that carriers, and not battleships, would lead to victory. Instead of relying on the few battleships that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he focused on the ability of the carriers to deliver hit-and-run attacks against the enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the December 7 ambush, had an elaborate plan for the Midway attack.

Nimitz had a simpler approach: get there first and surprise the Japanese. The tactics worked. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, put it, “The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock…the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour”.

After the victory, Station HYPO celebrated for what Rochefort described as a “drunken brawl” for three days. The codebreakers then returned to work to decode JN-25’s new codebook and additives. They had done splendid work that had resulted in a gamechanging victory at sea. But Washington was not so charitable in its response. Rochefort was resisting Redman’s crusade to place all the radio intelligence under the control of OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Although both HYPO and OP-20-G had been vigorously involved in the codebreaking, it was HYPO which had performed the analysis that had led to victory. As author Stephen Budiansky points out in his book Battle Of Wits: The Complete Story Of Codebreaking In World War II, if Nimitz had followed Washington’s direction, the Japanese would have had a much greater chance of winning at Midway.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

When Nimitz told Joseph Rochefort that he wanted to nominate him for a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for the role he played in the victory, Rochefort was not encouraging. It would only make trouble, he told Nimitz.

John Redman claimed that Midway was solely the achievement of OP-20-G. Because of that, he could not, would not accede to Nimitz’s intentions of awarding the Distinguished Service Award to Rochefort. Redman’s brother Joseph Redman was the Director of Naval Communications and he took exception to the fact that, in his words, Station HYPO was under the command of someone who was not technically trained in naval communications.

Instead of Rochefort, Captain Redman said, HYPO should be commanded by a senior officer who was trained in radio intelligence. The Redman brothers were effective in their behind-the-scenes efforts and Rochefort did not receive a medal because he had only used the tools that had been provided. It was Washington, not HYPO, the Redmans asserted, that had evaluated the intentions of the Japanese.

Over his desk, Rochefort had a sign which read We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit. But no one could have expected that Washington would so completely steal credit from those who deserved it.

The battle for centralization of the radio intelligence units continued. Nimitz authorized his embattled codebreaker to send a memo that Rochefort answered only to Nimitz, not to Washington. A month after he sent the memo, Rochefort was ordered to the Navy Department for temporary additional duty that quickly became permanent. Nimitz was enraged at John Redman, who at this time was now the fleet communications officer for Nimitz. The excuse was that Rochefort’s advice was needed, but Rochefort was no fool. He had told Nimitz that he would not be allowed to return to HYPO.

Rochefort never again worked in coding. At the end of his career, he was placed in command of the San Francisco floating dry dock ABSD-2. Rochefort died in 1976, but the battle to reward him for his work did not end with his death, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, responding to renewed efforts to honor the codebreaker who helped to win the Battle of Midway, supported those efforts. Joseph John Rochefort received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal almost a decade after his death, on November 17, 1985.

This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 amazing things Benedict Arnold did before becoming a traitor

The name “Benedict Arnold” is a fancy way of saying “traitor” in the United States, but Arnold wasn’t the only revolutionary to switch colors and re-embrace the English. So why is he the one who became infamous?


Because before he was a traitor, he was a brilliant leader who helped win the revolution.

1. Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga and its arsenal of cannons.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Photo: New York Public Library Digital Library

In May of 1775, the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga numbered only about 50 men. With the rebellion gaining traction throughout the colonies, revolutionary leaders knew that capturing the fort and it’s large numbers of cannons would aid an American victory.

Then-Col. Arnold and Ethan Allen attacked the fort May 10 with Allen’s troops, the Green Mountain Boys, capturing the guns and the garrison. The guns would later be used at the Siege of Boston while the fort would become a staging ground for Arnold’s invasion of Canada.

2. He and his commander nearly conquered Canada (but the final attack went horribly).

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Illustration: Public Domain/Charles William Jefferys

Following the success at Fort Ticonderoga, Col. Arnold led part of an invasion force whose mission was to secure Canadian support of the war by destroying British forces in the area.

Despite setbacks like mass desertion, equipment failures, and disease, the invasion did make it to the city of Quebec with enough forces to take it. Arnold’s attempt to lay siege to the city was unsuccessful, but an opportunity for a Dec. 30-31, 1775, attack gave a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, the attack was a disaster. Its potential for success ended almost immediately when a single round of grapeshot killed 14 men including, Arnold’s commander and two other senior officers. On the opposite side of the city, Arnold ordered his men forward and was maimed almost immediately by a shot to his leg.

Now a brigadier general, Arnold eventually recovered and antagonized the British in the area until June 18, 1776 when he was the last American to leave Canada as British forces pushed south.

3. Arnold Created an ad hoc navy to delay the British.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Photo: Wikipedia/National Archives of Canada

As the British pursued his men, Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold knew that if he could just delay the British until winter, the Continental Army could use the frozen months to rebuild and hold off an invasion.

So he immediately began construction of an improvised navy on the shores of Lake Champlain. Even though he had no naval experience, he sent his ships out that Oct. to meet the British on the lake. 15 American vessels faced off against 25 superior British ones.

Arnold fought a delaying action as he moved south, losing 11 ships to enemy fire and burning his other four when he reached the southern shore. He then burned one of his forts, Fort Crown Point, to the ground to deny the British use of it. His action worked and the British were unable to reach Fort Ticonderoga before winter set in. This would lead to two battles at Saratoga the next year.

4. He carried the charge that won the Battle of Saratoga.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Photo: Flickr/Ron Cogswell

 

The American victory at the second Battle of Saratoga in 1777 was a turning point in the war that enabled France to openly support the rebellion and emboldened foreign powers to attack Britain in other parts of the world.

And it was Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold who led the troops against the British lines. Arnold’s superior, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, wanted to simply wait out the British from behind fortifications, a move that would have allowed many to escape. Arnold disobeyed orders and led charges through the British ranks, saving the day and resulting in a second maiming of Arnold’s left leg.

After suffering two serious injuries for the colonies and being passed over for promotion multiple times, Arnold became deeply embittered against his own army. He would go on to try to sell the American defenses at West Point to the British, a move that would have left New York open to invasion. His plot was discovered and he was branded a traitor.

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This Kiwi pilot inspired Tom Hardy’s character in Dunkirk

The pilot checks his watch and does another calculation. The fuel gauge on his Spitfire had been shot out by a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, and he was reduced to estimating his remaining fuel level with quick arithmetic. As he approaches the Dunkirk coast, the engine begins to sputter and the prop slows to a lethargic, useless spin. Now gliding, the pilot spots a German Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber making a dive on the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force troops attempting to evacuate below. He lines up his gunsight and lets out a burst of fire from his .303 Browning machine guns, sending the smoking Stuka into the water.


The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Dunkirk movie promo (Credit to Warner Bros. Pictures)

The men on the ground cheer and wave at their airborne savior as he glides his Spitfire over the beach. Once he is clear of the British beachhead, the pilot lowers his flaps for landing. The landing gear release lever malfunctions and he is forced to manually crank his landing gear down as the beach below him grows closer and closer. He skillfully sets the Spitfire down on the beach with no bumps or bounces—a perfect landing under any circumstances. After setting fire to his plane, the pilot reflects on his long day of fighting before he is captured by German troops.

This account follows the story of an RAF Spitfire pilot named Farrier, played by Tom Hardy, in the 2017 Warner Bros. film Dunkirk. Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk tells the suspenseful story of the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. What most people don’t know is that Farrier’s actions depicted in the film are based on the real-life exploits of New Zealand fighter ace Alan Deere.

Deere was born in Westport, New Zealand in 1917. During his school years, he excelled in sports and took up rugby, cricket, and boxing. After school, he convinced his mother to sign an “Under 21” form, allowing him to join the RAF at the age of 20. Deere moved to England in 1937 to begin his flight training. After graduating flight school, Deere was assigned to No. 54 Squadron and flew the Gloster Gladiator before converting to the Supermarine Spitfire in March 1939.

During Operation Dynamo, the BEF evacuation at Dunkirk that began on May 26, No. 54 flew several sorties every day to provide air cover over Dunkirk and the English Channel. On May 27, Deere destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber that was attacking a hospital ship, much like Farrier did in the film. The intense aerial combat and high operational tempo of Dynamo meant that, by May 28, No. 54 Squadron had been attrited to just eight serviceable aircraft.

Deere led the squadron on a dawn patrol, Deere spotted a German Dornier Do 17 bomber. He split off a section of his patrol to engage the enemy aircraft. During his attack on the Do 17, Deere’s Spitfire was hit by machine gun fire from the bomber’s rear gunner. He was forced to make an emergency landing to the east on a Belgian beach, during which he was knocked unconscious. After he came to, Deere torched his plane and made his way into a nearby town where he received first aid and hitched ride on a British Army truck back to Dunkirk. During the boat ride back to England, Deere received harsh words and criticism about the RAF’s fighter cover from the BEF soldiers (this experience was portrayed in the story of a different RAF pilot in the film).

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Deere’s scuttled Spitfire on the beach. (Photo from spitfirepv270.co.nz)

 

After the Battle of France, Deere flew during the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Normandy. During the war, Deere scored 22 aerial victories, 10 probable kills, and damaged 18 enemy aircraft. He became a quadruple ace and the second highest scoring New Zealand fighter pilot in history. For his contributions during the war, Deere was awarded two British Distinguished Flying Crosses, the American Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the British Distinguished Service Order, and appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Deere’s military career also brought him numerous near death experiences, including having his Spitfire’s wing shot off, and a head-on engagement with a Bf 109 which resulted in an aerial collision and another glide to an emergency landing. Befitting an unkillable man like Deere, his autobiography is titled Nine Lives.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Portrait of Wing Commander Alan Deere. (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)

 

After the war, Deere continued to serve in the RAF and achieved the rank of Air Commodore before retiring in 1967. He returned to his boyhood passion of athletics and became the RAF’s Director of Sport as a civilian. During his later years, Deere suffered from cancer. He died on September 21, 1995. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the River Thames from a Spitfire.

Memorabilia from Deere’s military career, including medals, trophies, and even the engine from one of his Spitfires, are on display at museums in both Britain and New Zealand. Perhaps his best tribute, however, is a restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing his markings when he served as a Wing Commander during the war. The Spitfire was restored by Deere’s nephew, Brendon Deere, and is flown at air shows in New Zealand.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
Brendon Deere’s restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing Alan Deere’s markings. (Photo from airshowtravel.co.nz)
MIGHTY HISTORY

A baby girl is entombed on the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, USS Utah (BB-31) was moored off of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Utah was struck by two torpedoes during the infamous attack and quickly took on water. The order to abandon ship was given. Chief Watertender Peter Tomich stayed below decks to ensure as many of his shipmates could escape and keep the pumps going for as long as possible. Tomich would posthumously earn the Medal of Honor for his actions. Utah took only 14 minutes to capsize. Fifty eight men would perish on board the battleship and remain entombed there to this day. These men also stand eternal watch over an unexpected visitor, a two-day old baby girl.

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’
USS Utah was in service for almost 32 years before she was sunk (U.S. Navy)

Chief Yeoman Albert Thomas Dewitt Wagner was one of the hundreds of men assigned to the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Four years earlier, on August 29, 1937, Wagner’s wife gave birth to twin girls while they were stationed in the Philippines. Nancy Lynne and Mary Dianne Wagner were born prematurely. Sadly, Nancy Lynne lived only two days. Her body was cremated and brought back to Hawaii when Chief Wagner was assigned to the Utah. Wagner was hoping to give his daughter a proper burial at sea and was waiting for a new chaplain to join the crew to perform it. Unfortunately, the ceremony was not to happen.

Wagner had just finished his breakfast when the Japanese surprise attack started. “Suddenly, the air was bent by a terrific explosion,” Wagner wrote in his journal. “Rushing to a porthole I saw a huge column of black smoke bellowing high into the heavens.” Wagner hurriedly rushed to his battle station on the third deck at the ship’s aft. Suddenly, Utah was rocked by a torpedo explosion that threw Wagner off of his feet. He was forced to abandon ship with his daughter’s ashes still in his locker in the chief’s quarters.

According to the surviving twin sister, Mary Dianne Wagner Kreigh, attempts were made to recover Nancy Lynne’s ashes. “Frogmen did go down about two weeks after the attack and tried to enter the quarters,” she recalled, “but it was too badly smashed to get in.” It was not until 1972 that Nancy Lynne and the 58 sailors about the Utah received a proper monument. The Navy erected a concrete pier and memorial slab and dedicated it to those that remain entombed aboard the Utah. “I don’t think there is a better tribute to my twin sister than to have all of those wonderful and brave men guarding her,” Kreigh said. “I could not have asked for anything better than for her to be tenderly, carefully looked after by America’s finest.” In 1990, Kreigh started a Thanksgiving tradition to visit the USS Utah memorial and place a lei in the water in her sister’s honor.

USS Utah next to the memorial at Pearl Harbor
Utah‘s rusted hull lays exposed above the water next to the memorial to those that remain entombed on board (U.S. Navy)
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