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Letters From Readers - September 2007 - World War II

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: July 17, 2007 
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Unlikely Comrades in Arms

It is important to realize that in developing their blitzkrieg doctrine ("Blueprint for Blitzkrieg," June 2007), the Germans had learned a good deal from the Soviets by testing tactics and weapons in the USSR in the 1920s up to 1933. The Soviet government secretly invited members of the German General Staff (including officers who, ironically, were to become Wehrmacht commanders in the German attack on the USSR in June 1941), field and staff officers, weapons designers, and industrialists to the Soviet Union. There, by order of the Soviet Communist Party Politburo, the Russians and Germans manufactured and test flew, for instance, the first Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber. Besides testing mechanized warfare tactics, they also developed chemical weapons.

As Lennart Samuelson writes in his Plans for Stalin's War Machine:

"In theory and in practice, the Soviet Union [in the 1920s] seems to have had the lead in modern mobile warfare over the Germans. After a visit to Germany in autumn of 1932, [Marshal Mikhail] Tukhachevskii reported on maneuvers in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder….In Tukhachevskii's opinion, the German army lacked understanding of modern warfare: 'The Reichswehr leadership cannot imagine the new form of combat which arises from the new weapons: aviation, tanks, automatic rifles.' As the German army adopted principles close to the ones already developed in the Soviet doctrine, the Wehrmacht would become a formidable enemy that would change all earlier war scenarios."

Albert L. Weeks
Sarasota, Fla.
Author,
Stalin's Other War:
Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939–1941

Doolittle, Tokyo, and Kobe

In "Darkness over Kobe" (June 2007) there is a mistake concerning the Doolittle raid. None of the sixteen B-25s were shot down. All the planes but one ran out of gas, and either the crews bailed out over China or the planes crash-landed on the coast. One plane landed in Russia. The captured crewmen were held in prison in China.

Stan Cohen
Missoula, Mont.
Author,
Destination Tokyo

As one who spent the war years in Kobe as a foreign national, I vividly remember the bombings, in particular the one on June 5, 1945, when what was left from the previous two major raids was obliterated.

That included the house where my family lived. We escaped with just the clothes on our backs and two suitcases that we had placed by the door for just such emergencies. But we were lucky, having escaped unscathed from the burning house. Many did not.

George Sidline
Portland, Ore.
Author,
We'll Survive

The Shot Heard 'Round Shanghai

Three months after the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, my family was visiting my grandparents' house on a sunny Sunday, October 24. On the way there, I noticed several British soldiers manning a machine gun, for we were inside the British concession of Shanghai. Things were very tense with all-out war looming. As always I brought my trusty Red Ryder BB gun my Uncle Kim gave me for Christmas. While playing in the garden, I heard the sound of a low-flying plane. Looking up, I saw a biwing Japanese plane flying about 100 feet above ground, heading straight for me. I could clearly see the red meatballs on the wings and the pilot's goggles. Instinctively I raised my rifle and fired a shot at the plane. Then I heard the loudest machine gun fire in my life. Before I could reload, my grandfather grabbed me from behind and dragged me into the house.

The plane was actually shooting at the machine gun nest behind me. Later we visited the gun crew, who were all shot up, with one dead. This incident was well publicized. Unfortunately, my name was never mentioned, even though I fired the first shot. Instead I got the biggest chewing out for a nine-year-old boy.

That plane was later identified as Aichi D1A2 96, the same type that later attacked the USS Panay gunboat on December 12, 1937.

Victor Chun
Los Angeles, Calif.

A Survivor Who Spoke for Many

I was greatly pleased with your article "Well, Mother—Your Son's a Survivor" (June 2007). My brother, Lyle V. Brown, was a Navy gun crew sailor, lost while on board HMS Harvester to U-432 on March 11, 1943.

This letter is the one he never had a chance to write to our family, but it would have been similar, I'm sure. The content of this sailor's letter better acquaints me with the terrible hardships my own brother experienced. I leave soon to England and France to gather additional information on Lyle's death now available after sixty-plus years. This letter was so fondly appreciated by our family.

Father Don Worthy
Detroit, Mich.

There is some irony in the sinking of SS Pennmar, as the ship was built in a Japanese shipyard (Kawasaki Dock Yard) in 1920 and sunk by a German U-boat. Pennmar was a straggler from Convoy SC 100 at the time of her demise on September 24, 1942 (0144 hours Berlin time). The submarine was U-432 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Otto Schultze on his sixth war patrol, which ended at La Pallice, France, on October 4, 1942.

U-432 made one more patrol under Schultze before being turned over to Kapitänleutnant Hermann Eckhardt in January 1943. On March 11, 1943, U-432 was sunk by the French corvette Aconit on her first cruise under Eckhardt with the loss of twenty-six, including the commanding officer, out of a crew of forty-six.

James A. Smith Jr.
Willingboro, N.J.

While the article was intriguing, there were several errors: the sixty-one survivors from the Penmar were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bibb, not Ingham, after surviving sixty hours in the frigid Atlantic, not four days. They were delivered to Reykjavik Harbor in Iceland on October 2, 1943, before being transported to Halifax and then to the United States.

The letter was certainly written by a member of SS Pennmar. This is corroborated in the memories of Henry Thomas von Vange, gunner's mate first class: www.armed-guard.com/vange.html.

Bruce Cook
Milestone, Sask., Canada

Nazis Lacked Only the Material to Build the Bomb

In the excerpted chapter "Einstein and the Bomb" (June 2007) Walter Isaacson wrote that "neither [Einstein] not Szilárd nor any of their friends involved with the bomb-building effort…could know that the brilliant scientists they had left behind in Berlin would fail to unlock the secrets." It seems, however, that what retarded the efforts of Werner Heisenberg and his scientific cohorts in Nazi Germany in the construction of a nuclear weapon was not their failure to unlock any of the essential secrets of atomic theory but rather a lack of needed materials to make a bomb. Had the Germans been as ignorant of the principles of physics as implied, it would hardly have been necessary for Einstein to rush to warn President Roosevelt of the need to build such a bomb before the Germans could or to prevent Germany from obtaining uranium from the Belgian Congo. Indeed, the Allies were so concerned that the Germans were close to success that in 1943 they carried out elaborately planned commando and bombing raids to destroy a heavy-water-production plant operated by the Germans in Norway, and then Norwegian partisans sank a ship carrying the remaining heavy water to Germany. The heavy water was essential to the operation of a nuclear reactor, and although having such a reactor did not guarantee that a bomb could be built, the obstacles to its construction were logistical, not theoretical.

Joseph B. Stahl
New Orleans, La.

Send letters to World War II, 741 Miller Drive, SE, Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175, or worldwar2@weiderhistorygroup.com. Please include your name, address, and daytime telephone number.


One Response to “Letters From Readers - September 2007 - World War II”


  1. 1
    Jan Edwards says:

    My family has a friend who is 90 this year who was one of the few survivors of the HMS Harvester in WW2 when it was sunk by a German submarine. He was rescued by the French ship the Aconit. He lives in Melbourne Australia. He joined the the Royal Navy at age 14 and served thoughout WW2 and beyond. I find it interesting hearing his stories of life in the Navy during the war. I was recently tracked down by a lady whose father was lost in the sinking of the Harvester. She never new her father and our friend remembered her father who was the radio operator of the Harvester. Probably not too many people still alive who were on the Harvester now. Most perished in the sinking.



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