Saturday, October 20, 2018
THE GERMAN U-BOAT MENACE OF WORLD WAR II
In World War II the German's conquered France in 1940 and turned it into a major support system for its war against the Allies. On a trip to France my son-in-law Dr. Stephen Alan Bourque, professor emeritus of the School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, became interested in the untold story of what toll the war had taken on French civilians.
In his book, "Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France," he tells the story of the massive damage that was done to French civilians and cities in an attempt to contain the Nazi menace. He discovered the allies bombed 1,570 French cities and towns killing 68,778 men, women and children over the course of World War II. This was greater than the damage done to Britain by the German bombings and attacks with rockets. More than 100,000 French were injured, and 432,000 houses were completely destroyed.
Immediately on taking over France the Germans built giant bomb proof submarine pens in French ports to protect their subs. These ports were used to reload and repair the German U-boats after their fights in the "Battle of the Atlantic." One of the cities with a port supporting the U-boats that had been completely destroyed was St. Nazaire on the coast at the mouth of the Loire River.
The Allies bombed the area 200 times during the war and on one date in 1943, 413 British heavy bombers attacked the submarine pens. Despite this massive attack the pens were left intact due to the tremendous amount of cement used in their construction. On the other hand the bombs completely destroyed the city and killed French civilians, German soldiers and slave laborers who had been sent to work on the area.
The German U-boat pens in France survived heavy bombing the surrounding villages did not
These submarines (U-boats) were one of Germany's most dangerous weapons that took a tremendous toll on the supplies and troops being shipped from America to its Allies in England and Russia. The U-boats sometimes worked in wolf packs of as many as 20 subs attacking our convoys that consisted of 30 to 70 merchant ships with naval protection.
During the war the U-boats sank about 2,779 ships for a total of 14.1 million tons GRT (Gross Registered Tonnage). This figure is roughly 70% of all allied shipping losses in all theatres of the war and to all hostile action.
The most successful year was 1942 when over six million tons of shipping were sunk in the Atlantic. This resulted in heavy loss of life on both sides. The Germans lost 28,000 U-boat crew and 72,200 Allied sailors and merchant seamen were killed. It became clear that if the mass sinking's of supplies and troops couldn't be prevented the war would be lost.
My daughter Debra Anderson made a trip with her husband, the author, to see the pens that are open to visitors.
Here is one of her notes. "Steve wanted to see them for his research. The day started out cool but turned into a nice day. At St. Nazaire we went past the city to the west side to see the ocean."
"Steve wasn't sure where the submarine pens were, but knew that the city had been destroyed because of them. We then drove along the coast into the town. There were beaches and several monuments along the coast. We found a parking space and went exploring. Wow! We were at the submarine pens and they were so impressive. They were massive and had proved to be indestructible. Tons of cement. We walked around and took pictures. Just an amazing structure."
"There’s a photo with me in a dark area next to the water. It’s like a boat dock - a platform with a rectangular space for a boat to pull in or go out to the water. But it’s a covered area, and what was docked were submarines, not boats. It reminded me of a James Bond movie where the subs come into secret hiding places."
The number of merchant ships sunk peaked in 1942 with 1,150 ships sent to the bottom of the Atlantic. England was on the verge of starvation. The subs had to be stopped.
To do this the Allies had to coordinate their various forces and a central office was developed that took messages from the air, the ground and naval forces. With antisubmarine intelligence, electronic tracking and attack aircraft the allies set up their own Hunter-Killer Task Groups.
In World War II Germany built 1,162 U-boats, of which 785 were destroyed and the remainder surrendered (or were scuttled to avoid surrender) at the capitulation. Of the 632 U-boats sunk at sea, Allied surface ships and shore-based aircraft accounted for the great majority (246 and 245 respectively).
To see an U-boat in person go to the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago that has the captured U-boat on which we discovered a German M4 enigma coding machine. This was to be a gift without price, since now the Allies could decode German messages.
A captured German U-boat on display at the Field Museum in Chicago
Friday, August 3, 2018
GERMAN V2 BOMB HISTORIC SITES
I recently gave a talk based on the book, Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France, written by my son-in-law Stephen Bourque. The war with Germany was a disaster for France. They surrendered in seven weeks to Germany's blitzkrieg techniques. Britain lost much of its armaments but rescued most of its troops from Dunkerque. France became a base of operations for the Germans, and 40% of French manufacturing turned to producing war materials and weapons for Germany.
Something that is seldom talked about was the rain of bombs this brought upon the French population. Because the Germans were making so much use of French facilities, the Allies attacks on them caused must damage to non-military structures and civilian populations.
Day light bombing turned out to be inaccurate and the Germans could shoot down more planes, so Britain took to bombing at night doing carpet bombing in hopes it would destroy valuable factories making military equipment. That insured even more collateral death and damage.
The allies bombed 1,570 French cities and towns killing 68,778 men, women and children over the course of World War II. This was greater than the damage done to Britain by the German bombings and attacks with rockets. More than 100,000 French were injured, and 432,000 houses were completely destroyed.
During Allied attacks on Normandy during landings we bombed railroads, bridges and armored sites killing more French citizens, 10,000, than German soldiers, 7000.
Germany's V1 flying bomb was a "Vengeance Weapon" Hitler used against the British
Many of the bombing raids were against the V1 flying bomb an early cruise missile that Hitler intended as a "Vengeance weapon" against the British. He hoped to create terror in London as revenge for the bombing they were doing in Germany. From French bases 9,521 were launched, but with the use of antiaircraft, balloons on cables and fighter planes the Allies learned to shoot many of them down. Debra and Steve were able to visit a V1 missile site at Val Ygot near Ardouval.
For my talk Steve had sent me pictures of areas bombed and one large cement structure seemed especially important, "the blockhaus at Eperlecques." This is a massive cement structure built by the Germans with slave labor to house rockets V1 and V2. The blockhaus was practically imperious to bombs, even bombs developed specifically to destroy it. They did take a heavy toll on slave labor that was being used to construct it.
To avoid detection the V2 was shot off mobile launchers that could be moved around the northern part of France. The Allies spent much time and energy trying to find these sites and destroy them, but they could be set up so quickly that it was almost impossible to stop them.
The V2 rocket sites hurled bombs carrying a warhead of 2,200 pounds at 3,500 miles an hour at London. The V2 were so fast victims heard them incoming only after they had hit since they were faster than the speed of sound. When it exploded it could create a crater 30-40 yards wide and 15 yards deep.
The consequences of the V2 becoming successful had implications for its danger to targets as far away as the United States. Wernher von Braun was the German aerospace engineer developing this rocket technology. The German hope was that with a little more time they could develop rockets that would reach the United States. At the end of the war von Braun and his team escaped from Russia territory to surrender to the U.S. Army. Braun and his team went on to advance space science in America and help us reach the moon.
The V2 rocket did tremendous damage and given time may have reached the United States
My daughter Debra Anderson made a number of these research trips to France with Steve. They spent a lot of time in Northern France where many of these sites are located. She recommends visiting the blockhaus at Eperlecques, which has been converted into a museum. It's an impressive structure with descriptions written in English and French. On their trip, they flew into Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris and drove two and a half hours north. You could also drive south 30 minutes from Calais on the English Channel. The museum has a website and you should find the location on the map before venturing out.
There are also missile sites at Siracourt, which is an hour south of Eperlecques and Val Ygot at Ardouval, another hour and a half west. The coastal towns in the area include Calais, Bologne-Rouen, and Dieppe, all of which are pleasant. Debra and Steve particularly enjoy visiting Rouen, which is rich in history. Claude Monet made numerous paintings of the cathedral there, and it has a plaza commemorating Joan of Arc. Getting off the beaten path can make for an enjoyable, and often surprising, adventure.
The Blockhouse where V1 and V2 rockets were kept was bomb resistant
A V2 rocket inside the Blockhouse
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
THE MUSEUM OF TRANSPORTATION: ST. LOUIS
In the last 150 years we have made unbelievable gains in how we move ourselves and our stuff around. These advances in transportation are on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis County. The Smithsonian Institution recognizes this museum as, "one of the oldest and best collections of transportation vehicles in the world."
A railway car pulled by a mule, 5 cents a ride.
It's more than transportation that we learned about on our visit. For example, we saw a small railway car from 1870 which was pulled by a mule. The fare was a nickel, the driver was paid nine and a half cents an hour and three cents was spent each day in the winter to put straw on the floor to help keep the riders warm. In the interests of its welfare the mule only worked six hours a day.
Next to the railway car was a large produce truck that sold fruit and vegetables as it moved around St. Louis streets. This was a productive way of life until 1950 when supermarkets came into being and the peddlers went out of business. Different kinds of buggies and sledges were the older forms of getting around.
A horse drawn hearse
A collection of travel outfits of the old days along with travel equipment are on display. We were most impressed with the heavy fur coat that protected drivers against the winter winds given the openness to the air of old forms of travel.
We moved up the hill, past the Miniature Train Station where rides are available to the Lindburg Automobile Center. Having personally owned cars manufactured as far back as 1929, I always find these sections especially interesting.
A beautiful white 1923 Stanley Steamer was on display next to a old Pierce-Arrow motorcycle. The Steamer had a large water tank or boiler for an engine. It claimed it could run on anything that burned, was quiet, had few parts and didn't require gears. In the early 1900 they were more popular than gas engines. Companies stopped making them after 1924.
A 1920's Pevely Milk Wagon was a look back into my past. In the 1930's few people had refrigerators and glass bottled milk was delivered daily. One horse pulled the wagon and that horse knew the way. That is, the driver would take a batch of bottles and deliver to a number of houses and the horse would walk around the corner and know where to meet him.
An 1890's horse-drawn hearse had glass sides so the coffin could be viewed by the mourners as it was towed down the street to the graveyard. Since the coffin was to be on view, people would often put more expensive adornments on it than they could afford.
Further up the hill was the Roberts Pavilion with more than 70 locomotives and many train cars. According to the museum brochure this is the most complete collection of American rail power in the world. Frankly it was too much to see and understand. After walking through several old passenger cars and looking in some others, we moved on.
Special attention is paid to Owney, the traveling dog in a contest where you hunt for Owney posters throughout the museum and you win small prizes such as a museum coloring book or a free bag of popcorn. Owney was a mutt who wandered into an Albany, New York post office in 1888, and he ended up riding trains carrying mail. In nine years he traveled 140,000 miles around the United States. Later his friends at the post office arranged for him to travel around the world on a steamship. In July, 2011, Owney was honored on a U.S. first class Forever Stamp.
The museum is very interested in providing educational experiences for all grade levels. Classes can be arranged for school groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Produce trucks took the place of today's supermarkets.
A Stanley Steamer, note the large water tank in the front.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
HEROES OR CORPSES: TRUMAN IN WORLD WAR I
Captain Harry S. Truman in World War I
As his troop ship sailed for Europe in World War I on March 30, 1918, future president Harry S. Truman remembered, "there we were watching New York's skyline diminish and wondering will we be heroes or corpses?" The patriotic 33-year-old farmer had volunteered to serve as an artillery man in action in France.
The new exhibition at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence gives a very personal, insider look at what that experience was for Truman with enlarged pictures, reports from the battle zone, personal memorabilia, and probably most important quotes from letters that Truman wrote to his future wife Bess.
In 1905 Truman had joined the Missouri National Guard where he learned the basic skills of an artilleryman in monthly drills and summer encampments. He had to withdraw in 1911 because of the demands placed on him to support his mother and sister by working full time as a farmer after his father died. He had tried making a career in oil and mining, but nothing had been profitable.
He was in love with Bess Wallace, daughter of the highest status family in the area. Her mother was not happy with the possibility of her daughter marrying a farmer with no formal education beyond high school.
He noted, "I was a Galahad after the Grail and I'll never forget how my love cried on my shoulder when I told her I was going. That was worth a lifetime on this earth." They planned to be married if he returned.
Truman was a letter writer and 1,300 of his letters to Bess still exist. Many of these letters form the basis for one of the most engaging aspects of this exhibition. He reported to her what was happening in the war and how he was reacting. Before going into battle additional training was necessary. He wrote Bess, "We have been working harder than ever. I had an examination Saturday that would make the president of Yale University bald-headed scratching his head trying to think of answers."
First he had to get the artillery battery of 200 Irish and German Catholics from Kansas City under control. They had already proved too difficult for several officers with their stubborn, undisciplined behavior. His response was "I was rather doubtful of my ability to handle that obstreperous battery."
A critical moment occurred when they were subject to incoming artillery fire, and one of the men shouted, "Run fellows they got a bracket on us." Truman stood his ground while screaming profanity at the fleeing men to return. They did. Their guns and horses got saved, none of his men were killed or injured. The battle showed the men of Battery D that their small bespectacled captain could hold his ground under challenging conditions.
Later he wrote Bess, "The Central Powers have asked for peace and I was in the drive that did it! I shot out a German battery, shot up their big observation post and ruined another battery when it was moving down the road. We plastered 'em'!"
At the end of the war his unit had performed well in battle and was in excellent condition. He comments on censoring his men's letters in a letter to Bess, "I had no idea that there were so many accomplished liars in any organizations on earth as I have in mine." He was responding to their inflated tales of heroism and accomplishment.
He used his time immediately after the war buying a car and traveling widely around France learning as much as he could about the country and the people. This war experience was to be valuable training for some of the critical decisions he was to make later as president. In addition there were friendships he made with men who would become valuable supporters later in his life.
He married Bess Wallace June 28, 1919. Her mother was in attendance.
Truman stayed in the reserves and left military service 27 years later as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Officer's Reserve Corps.
In another story I will discuss what critical decisions Truman made as president. When he left the presidency, only 30 % favored him, but now experts rate him as the sixth best president we have had!
This exhibition will be at the Truman Library and Museum until December 31, 2018.
Harry and Bess's wedding following the end of the war.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
MUSEUM OF WORLD TREASURES
How did one man manage to collect so many artifacts in one lifetime? We were at the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by items from all over the world and different historical periods. The collection has a tremendous range from Logan the Tylosaur, a giant fish who once patrolled the Western Inland sea over Kansas, to vases from ancient Greece to Bios on modern presidents.
We were told the collection was started by Dr. Jon Kardatzke, and he had put them into the museum in 2001 with the intent of educating the community. It was a hit. As more visitors came in, the collection received more attention from other fanatical collectors who also wanted to share the materials they had obsessively collected.
Now the collections have been expanded by 30 major private collectors and additional material from another 300. No wonder it is such an overwhelming collection.
What was the most impressive? The displays on the presidents of the U.S., which included such things as signed reports, letters and quotations from each. So impressive I will write a separate story on it.
The next most impressive displays were the dinosaurs that were the equal of what we have seen in major museums across the country. The museum had to move to expanded quarters when they added three giant dinosaurs including Ivan the T. Rex.
Ivan the T. Rex
The collection of Buddha statues from around the world had a number of body shapes with several being the expected overweight ones. For example, the Laughing Buddha weighs two and a half tons.
A herd of Cape buffalo carved out of iron wood caught our attention. How can anyone do an intricate job like that? How do they keep the legs coming out of the right bodies?
A small room was filled with materials from Egyptian tombs including two female mummies, some Egyptian coffins, figurines, jewelry, and animal mummies.
We were shown the reality of cowboy life, low paid, hardworking and many of them black. Something we were not told in our books and movies that instead conveyed the romantic lives of the American cowboy.
Reproduction of a scene from a WWII Air Force Base
Reproduction of a scene from the Civil War
America’s wars? Each is covered with artifacts and stories. At the entrance to the Civil War we watched a movie on Quantrill’s raid into Lawrence, Kansas, where his bushwackers killed most of the men in town and successfully escaped the army who pursued him.
One of the collectors must have been obsessed with uniforms for in several collection WWI and WWII we see the uniforms of all of the participants from different countries along with the rifles they used. Each of the wars also has a scene constructed of artifacts and manikins showing a typical scene of that war.
"One of a kind display" includes the Scarecrow’s pitchfork from the Wizard of Oz, a portion of the Berlin Wall, the scalp of George Custer’s nephew Henry Armstrong Reed taken by one of the Indians at Custer’s last stand.
Scavenger hunts are encouraged to get younger visitors involved. For pre- kindergarten to 2nd grade a set of pictures are given of objects to be looked for: Logan the Tylosaur, World War II era baby carriage, Civil War US Cavalry soldier hat.
Third grade to fifth graders were asked to find such things as: What hairstyle does the mummy on the right have? Find the clock in the Famous Authors collection. What famous author did it belong to?
For the sixth grade to adult things get harder: What is the laughing Buddha holding in his hands? What did soldiers fighting in Vietnam sometimes use, against regulation, to heat their meals?
The above questions also gives a taste of the wide range of subjects covered by the collection.
This is one of those museums that almost demands the visitor come back to see more.
A Buddha from the Buddha Collection
Saturday, January 6, 2018
WORLD'S LARGEST TOY MUSEUM
The World's Largest Toy Museum is in Branson, Missouri
When in Branson, MO, last fall I visited The World's Largest Toy Museum with over a million items from the19th century to the present time. My mind was flooded with memories about my childhood. I remembered the toys I had and the ones I would like to have had if we had had the money.
This is obviously a common response, and parents and grandparents bringing children will see a lot things that will trigger memories that can be shared.
There were toys for every age group. I could see, however, that some of the kids walking around with an iPhone in their hands were wondering how anyone could have found some objects interesting enough to spend time with.
My first strong response was to the National BB Gun Collection, with over 500 guns. I would have loved to have had a grandchild or two with me so I could tell them about the BB gun wars of my childhood.
There were 500 BB guns in their collection
I would tell about my dissatisfaction with my Buck Jones pump and my envy of those who had a Red Ryder lever action. Those were the days of little parental supervision. and I'm not sure my mother and dad knew the hazards the guns created.
In the checker museum I could have bragged about winning the nine-year-old checker championship in Jamestown, N.D.
The Lone Ranger section took me back to lying on the floor in the dark listening to him and his faithful companion Tonto on the radio.
Dolls play a large role in many people's childhood memories, and the museum has a wide range of them. My wife Carla especially enjoyed the displays. Our daughter Jerilyn has added several hundred of similar ones in her collection at home.
I found a number of special displays. The first group was labeled Vintage Store Front Mechanical Dolls. Here I saw James Cagney, John Wayne and Jack Kennedy standing with a group of realistic dolls dressed in outfits appropriate to who they were. They didn't appear to me to be something a child would want, rather something an adult would keep for display.
The second large display had GI Joe boxes in the exhibits, but the figures were dressed and armed German, Russian and other participants in World War II. Again I didn't see them as children's toys but as collectables for adults interested in fine details of uniforms and weapons.
The last group was again GI Joe labels, but were Civil War figures, finely detailed with individualized faces. More likely again for adult collectors.
The owners, Tom and Wendy Beck. started the museum in Texas in 1998 and moved to Branson in 2001with a mission "to build a toy museum that would bring people back to their childhoods, bring forgotten memories back to life, and offer opportunities for sharing those recollections with family and friends." I feel that they accomplished that goal very well.
As toys have been added, more building has been added and museum now covers three buildings, with 26,000 feet of exhibits.
It is not all toys. Space has been given to Harold Bell Wright who wrote "Shepherd of the Hills," a novel that sold millions and became a play that was part of the start of Branson as a tourist center.
We watched a movie on Wright's life and saw a copy of the letter written by President Ronald Reagan about the positive influence of Wright's novel on his life.
In the last building we visited there were several large railroad displays, unlike anything I knew about as a child. Finely detailed buildings, tracks that intersected and trails built on a special scale. My contact with this sort of thing was as an adult with friends who had turned their basements into train stations fulfilling a childhood dream.
For adults this is a very pleasant drop back into our past and for children to have fun exploring .
My wife, Carla in startled by a masked manikin
A Civil War GI Joe collection
The Museum has a special section on checkers
Capturing the U-505 German Submarine in World War II
It turned out to be a real adventure when we visited the Museum of Science+Industry in Chicago to explore the capture of the U-505 German Submarine during World War II.
Would we find a way to stop the devastation the U-Boats were creating on our supply ships crossing the Atlantic? Would we capture a U-Boat before its crew could blow it up? What would be find that would help us end the war?
No expense has been spared to provide answers to those and other questions by the use of a remarkable collection of archival film footage, 200 artifacts and interviews and testimony from the survivors, including the German captain of the sub.
We started down a hallway covered with newspaper headlines about the start of the war and the ongoing battles. Charts indicated the number of merchant ships sunk each year, peaking in 1942 with 1,150 ships sent to the bottom of the Atlantic. The subs were working in wolf packs. England was on the verge of starvation. The subs had to be stopped.
A diorama of survivors of a ship sunk by a German U-Boat
The Allies had to coordinate their various forces and a central office was developed that took messages from the air, the ground and naval forces.
With antisubmarine intelligence, electronic tracking and attack aircraft we set up our own Hunter-Killer Task Groups.
One of the visuals is a life- sized hologram of six people in a central control center gathering details and putting together an organized approach that led them to a sub off the coast of Africa that destroyers and attack planes surrounded.
The wolf pack hunters had now become the hunted.
Another large display with two ships' officers watching a large screen that shows the film taken at that time of the subs capture. We see the dropping of a special explosive that will damage but not sink a sub but would bring it to the surface.
It works and later we get to watch the members of the destroyer's crew go aboard the sub to get papers, maps and anything else that will tell us about Germany's war plans.
There is considerable danger because of the 14 timed explosives that should have been set. Fortunately for the American sailors it had all happened so quickly there was not time to set them to explode. Instead a sea strainer cover had been opened and water was rushing in. The cover was put back on.
The sailors who went about the sinking U-Boat 505 and rescued the Enigma coding machine
Sacks of materials were taken off, but most important was the capture of the German M4 enigma coding machine. This was to be a gift without price, since now the Allies could decode German messages.
To do this we needed to keep secret the capture of U-Boat and lead the Germans to believe it had been sunk and all of the crew killed.
Only one German died, the others were all taken to a secret prison camp in Louisiana. The boat itself was towed to Bermuda without being discovered by the Germans.
One display shows how the captured German crew tried to send messages out that they were still alive, but fortunately failed.
At the end of the tour a film showed these sailors meeting with their families who had believed they were dead . Being captured probably kept them from being killed because once the Allied forces got its act together, 70% of the German subs were sunk.
The U-505 has been reconditioned and is in great condition. Tours can be taken through it.
The U-505 has been reconditioned and looks in marvelous condition. Tours are available for an extra charge, but so much is going on around the boat that the interior tour is not really necessary. We had taken the interior tour shortly after the boat was moved to Chicago.
The children visitors were getting a real thrill using the material on exhibition. Enigma machines were on display along with a screen on which the visitor could code and decode messages. The living quarters were there to see what the sleeping and eating arrangements were on board. Periscopes were available to use.
Toward the end of the exhibition a film from 1964 is shown of interviews with the German Captain Harald Lange of the U-Boat and Admiral Dan Gallery who had captured him. They had become friends in the interim.
So much more can be seen. If you are interested in World War II, this is a must see for the vast archives and artifacts that have been drawn on to make this excellent exhibition.
Visitors can operate some of the submarine equipment