An Airman of the Mighty Eighth
[Re. “When Maggie Flew With the Forts,” May:] I am a 90-year-old World War II veteran of the 385th Bomb Group of the “Mighty Eighth” Air Force. I appreciate the acknowledgement of the terrible environment we endured, made obvious with your cover on the May issue.
‘In combat we always wore a Mae West (lifejacket) and a parachute harness over those fleece-lined jackets’
May I suggest that the pictures you used are a bit staged rather than authentic? On the cover and PP. 46 and 51 the goggles and helmets depicted are of much later issue than 1945. [Re. the photo] on P. 51: In combat we always wore a Mae West (lifejacket) and a parachute harness over those fleece-lined jackets. Nowhere overseas did I ever see chairs as shown on P. 50.
However, the overall discomfort level of active combat was well portrayed. Although you might have added the duration—up to nine or more hours that we were so garbed. Also, unlike the infantry, if we were injured, there was no first aid corpsman available until we got home and landed.
William “Bill” Varnedoe
Editor responds: Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White doubtless staged several of the photos that appeared both in that magazine and in our recent portfolio—particularly the image on our cover and the shot of the two waist gunners inside the B-17. However, all the photos were taken during her visit to England in 1942, and many ran in the October 1942 issue of Life.
[Re. “10 of History’s Worst Weapons,” by Stephan Wilkinson, May:] Enjoyed this article tremendously. It brought to mind an incident we experienced in Germany in early 1945 during our “all-expenses paid tour” of Europe. My outfit was the 2941st Engineer Technical Intelligence Team (ETIT), a euphemistic title for people whose job it was to dig up enemy mines and booby traps, take them apart and show the guys at the front how they worked and what to do and, especially, what not to do if they encountered any. On this occasion our orders were to cooperate in testing a new device to protect our tanks and their crews from the effects of the aforementioned weapons.
An American Army officer had designed this new thing consisting of two I-beams rotating on short axles welded to the tank’s sides, supporting an axle between them with 10 concrete rollers, each about 4 feet in diameter and a foot wide. The idea was that as the tank moved forward, the rollers—about six or eight feet in front of the tank—would set off the mine, disabling one or, at most, two of the rollers. This would be very useful in dealing with minefields and roads not yet cleared.
Having all kinds of mines, German and Allied, at our disposal, we buried a small French anti-tank mine in the road, camouflaging it so the tank crew wouldn’t know when they hit it. We then retreated to a safe distance and waited for the tank. Here it came, moving slowly, and the rollers hit the mine, resulting in a very satisfying explosion. The entire roller assembly was lifted into the air along with the front of the tank, all of which then crashed back down onto the road. When we got there, we found the tank undamaged as well as the crew, apart from some shaking up. But nine of the 10 rollers were shattered—and this from a mine having nowhere near the power of the German Teller anti-tank mines. Another good, war-winning idea shot to hell in its encounter with reality.
Port Hueneme, Calif.
I write to commend the artwork for “Last Stand at Ely,” by Kim Stubbs [May]. In a style beloved by my generation of military historians, who were raised on a steady diet of Will Eisner’s art in Mad magazine, Peter Jackson’s lively two-page spread (PP. 28–29) captures the action in a way other art cannot.
I submit it could also have carried bold Middle Ages battle sounds in caps, like SMITE! HACK! and GRAMERCY!
Philip J. Gioia
San Francisco, Calif.
I enjoyed your article on Michael Collins. However, there is an inconsistency in your insert map on P. 51. It displays a map of the United Kingdom showing England and Scotland—but no Wales? At the moment the U.K. consists of four different countries.
Editor responds: Forgive us, boyo! We did neglect to indicate that border and label Wales—and the mother of one of the editors was a coal miner’s daughter from Crumlin, South Wales. Cyrmu am byth (“Long live Wales”)!
Re. “Rebel of the Cause,” by Ron Soodalter, March 2014: I am appalled that such a fine magazine as yours could post such a blatantly biased and inaccurate article, especially in the age of the Shamrock Awakening, when so many of the myths and downright lies of popular Irish history are being challenged. There are almost too many points to challenge, but foremost I would state that Michael Collins was more of a hindrance to the Republican movement than a help, British intelligence capturing so many of his invaluable documents that they had to create an entire department to read them all. Second, the article never mentions once that Ireland had already been granted progressive independence by the British Parliament in 1914, and that the Anglo-Irish Treaty was a massive defeat for the IRA. The only “freedom” Michael Collins ever wanted was an Ireland “free” of Irish unionists.
Ron Soodalter responds: Few would question Collins was manipulated into making a bad deal with the British. As to whether he was a hindrance to the Cause, his legacy speaks volumes for his contribution. Regarding Collins and British intelligence, however, I suggest you read Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain’s Counterinsurgency Failure (2011), by J.B.E. Hittle, a decorated U.S. military intelligence analyst and authority on guerrilla warfare, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. His book lays out in minute detail the devastating impact of Collins’ organization on the British spy network. Ask yourself: If the British had so much intelligence on Collins, how did he manage to hide in plain sight for so long without being caught or killed?
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