Mistakes happen, but when they are on an airplane, the result is often disastrous. Unless they are terrorists, no pilot wants to make that fatal mistake, because after all, they are on that plane too. Not to mention that they have families of their own that they want to go home to. Still, mistakes do happen, and sometimes they are pilot error, while other times are mechanical failure or even weather.
On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 255 was preparing for takeoff from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The crew began the day, by operating the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 as Northwest Flight 750 from Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. They flew to MBS International Airport in Saginaw, Michigan. They then departed Saginaw, in the same aircraft as Flight 255, flying to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, with intermediate stops at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Michigan…near Detroit. Their next stop was to be at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona, but they never made it to Phoenix, crashing instead.
The plane’s rate of climb was greatly reduced as a result of the flaps not being extended, and approximately 2,760 feet past the end of runway 3C. The plane’s left wing struck a light pole in a car rental car lot. The impact caused the left wing to start disintegrating and catch fire. The plane rolled 90 degrees to the left, striking the roof of an Avis Car Rental building. The plane was now completely out of control, and crashed inverted onto Middlebelt Road striking vehicles just north of its intersection with Wick Road, killing two people on the ground in a car. It then broke apart…the wreckage skidding across the road, disintegrating and bursting into flames as it hit a railroad overpass and the overpass of eastbound Interstate 94. Of the 149 people onboard, there was one survivor, a four year old girl, who lost her parents and six year old brother in the crash.
In the end pilot error was blamed for the crash, because the pilots did not run through the pre-flight checklist. There also seemed to be a “problem with electrical power to the takeoff warning system. It was caused by the loss of input 28V dc. electric power between the airplane’s left dc. bus and the CAWS unit. The interruption of the input power to the CAWS occurred at the P-40 circuit breaker. The mode of interruption could not be determined.” The flight number Northwest Airlines 255 was retired, and when Delta purchased Northwest, they continued to honor the retired number. I wondered about retiring a flight number. It seems that in fatal crashes it is customary to retire the number in honor of those lost.
World War II had dragged on for almost six years, when the United States took things to the next, and as it turns out, final level. For quite some time, Japan had been one of the forces to be reckoned with. Now, with so much new technology, a plan has begun to form to put an end to this war, once and for all. The Japanese had no idea what was coming…how the 6th of August, 1945 would change things forever.
That August 6th in 1945 dawned like any other day, but at it’s end, the world would find that everything had changed. The power to destroy whole cities in an instant was in our hands. At 8:16am, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The ensuing explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people. Tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. With these two events, it was very clear that the nations had the ability to bring mass destruction. Hopefully, they would also have the compassion, not to do it.
With such a show of power, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender to the Japanese people in World War II in a radio address on August 14th, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb” as the reason Japan could no longer stand against the Allies. I’m sure the war-ravaged people of Japan were almost relieved. Of course, that meant that they did not know what their future would bring, but the recent past hadn’t been so great either, so they didn’t have too much to lose really.
Japan’s War Council, urged by Emperor Hirohito, submitted a formal declaration of surrender to the Allies, on August 10, but the fighting continued between the Japanese and the Soviets in Manchuria and between the Japanese and the United States in the South Pacific. During that time, a Japanese submarine attacked the Oak Hill, an American landing ship, and the Thomas F. Nickel, an American destroyer, both east of Okinawa. On August 14, when Japanese radio announced that an Imperial Proclamation was coming soon, in which Japan would accept the terms of unconditional surrender drawn up at the Potsdam Conference. The news did not go over well. More than 1,000 Japanese soldiers stormed the Imperial Palace in an attempt to find the proclamation and prevent its being transmitted to the Allies. Soldiers still loyal to Emperor Hirohito held off the attackers. That evening, General Anami, the member of the War Council most adamant against surrender, committed suicide. His reason was to atone for the Japanese army’s defeat, and he refused to hear his emperor speak the words of surrender. I guess the surrender was not a relief to everyone.
Usually, when a plane crashes, there are signs of the crash, a mayday hail, and the signal from the locator beacon to bring help to the downed plane, to find it’s remains and the people in it, alive or dead, but sometimes circumstances align in such a way, that years can pass by before anyone comes across the wreckage. Such was the case with the August 10, 1984 crash of a Cessna L-19E “Bird Dog” that had gone out to film a particularly nasty type of beetle infestation that had been ravaging hundreds of acres of Colorado forest in and around some of the higher-elevation foothills surrounding some of the Rockies. The Cessna L-19E is a two-seater liaison and observation aircraft built for the US Military. The tandem plane departed Granby (KGNB) for the scenic flight over the Colorado mountains, but never arrived at Jeffco (KBJC) as planned.
The pilot, 38 year old James Jeb Caddell had been offered a contract by the Colorado Department of Forestry. That meant that he had mounted a VHS video camcorder on top the instrument panel for the purpose of visually recording any beetle infestation that was observed along the flight route. Caddell, who brought a friend, 38 year old Ronald Hugh Wilmond along for the flight, started the camera shortly after takeoff. It ran until the aircraft crashed down through the trees about 6-1/2 minutes later, documenting the entire trip and the cause of the crash.
Because there was no distress signal, no one knew what had happened, To make matters worse, the aircraft had tumbled into the trees and landed on the Emergency Locator Transmitter, cutting off the signal. Although there was a fire, it burnt out quickly and there was not enough damage to mark the crash site from the air. Searchers tried in vain to find the missing plane, but to no avail. They finally had no choice but to abandon the search. The plane’s wreckage was discovered three years later, when backpackers hiking through the woods found the crash site. At the site was a video tape hanging from tree branches. Incredibly, the video was found to have only minor damage, when the FAA watched it. It had not only survived the crash and subsequent fire, but three years of exposure to the elements, as well.
With nothing else to go on, the video became the primary source data. The NTSB released this accident report. “NTSB Synopsis: Probable Cause: The airplane departed Grandby 8/10/84 and failed to arrive at its destination. On 8/23/87, it was found on the slope of a high tree-covered ridge. Video tape recovered from the wreckage provided a visual and audio record of the flight from takeoff to impact. Comparing the recording to a topographical map, the flight was climbing and its altitude above the ground was decreasing when it crashed at the 10,200 feet level. During the last few seconds of the tape, the terrain dominated the view through the cockpit window. The pilot made a 60-degree bank, and the stall warning horn could be heard 3 times during approximately 180 degree of turn. the airplane subsequently stalled, flipped over, and entered the trees. The density altitude was about 13,000 feet.
The pilot continued to fly into rising terrain until he was boxed in. He saw the ski slopes which are almost certainly on the leeward side of the mountain: mountain flyers know these can produce a severe downdraft and are trained not to fly straight into them. The pilot presumably panicked because he then compounded his worsening situation with the steep turn to the right. The plane lost lift and the stall warners sounded. The altitude, temperature and humidity combined to create the density altitude of 13,000 feet when the aircraft was actually at 10,200 feet. The high density altitude, flying over Colorado mountains in August, meant that in the turn, the plane was as high as it was capable of flying and was no longer able to climb at speed.
He makes a moderately steep turn to the right (in excess of 45 to 50 degrees angle of bank) in an attempt to turn around quickly – the plane loses considerable lift and initially stalls twice; then on the 3rd stall (with the stall warning horn blaring in the background), enters the traditional “stall/spin” syndrome and flips upside down as the left (up-wing) wing stalls completely and the plane, flipping over on its back, plunges straight down through the trees – but not before capturing the pilot’s last mournful cry to his friend in the back seat: “Damn, hang on Ronnie!!” The plane smashes downwards through the thick tree branches (you can hear the heavy “thuds” as the plane’s wings smash into these while heading for the ground); it crashes and burns – killing both the pilot and back-seat passenger. Improper in-flight planning/decision by the pilot in command and airspeed not maintained are cited by the NTSB report as the probable causes, with the high density altitude and mountainous terrain given as contributing factors.”
The pilot’s family requested that the film not be released to the general public and a 20-year moratorium was placed on the footage. That expired in 2009 and the footage was released. After watching the video, I can say that it was a hard one to watch, because I, unlike the planes occupants, knew what was coming. It seemed to me, that if he just looked at the terrane coming up ahead of him, he could have made the necessary evasive action to turn around, while there was still time. Unfortunately, he was mesmerized by the view, and only realized his predicament seconds before it was all over. It doesn’t appear that his passenger had any idea that anything was wrong, at least not until Caddell uttered those final words, “Damn, hang on Ronnie!!” Several times during the video, I felt myself pushing back in my seat, as if I could make the plane gain altitude, but when he made that final turn, I felt my stomach lurch, as if I were inside the plane too. A few moments of incredible views, a little bit of inattention, and two lives were over. It was incredibly sad.
The massive number of ships that sail and have sailed the oceans are mostly safe, but by pure logic, there would also be a number of them for whom safe passage was not to be. For the steamer Alaska, August 8, 1921 would go down in history as the day when her number was up. Shortly after 9:00 pm, the Alaska was sailing south along the California coast, bound for San Francisco, when it hit Blunts Reef…twice. Blunts Reef is located 40 nautical miles south of Eureka, California.
Immediately, the crew knew they were in trouble. Wireless distress signals were flashed. Five miles away the steamer Anyox of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada picked up the signals…quickly, while disregarding fog and placing themselves in danger of striking the same rocks as the Alaska, put on full speed to the rescue. At 9:30 pm the Anyox received the Alaska‘s final message: “We are sinking by the head.” Before the Anyox could reach the stricken Alaska the ship had sunk, but that was not all that happened to the Alaska.
As the ship sunk, the ship’s boilers exploded…passengers and members of the crew of the steamer Alaska were blown from the decks of the vessel into the ocean. The Anyox, traveling dangerously fast in the foggy night, came upon a lifeboat with survivors from the Alaska. The boat was partially filled with sea water and oily scum. The oil, survivors said, had been thrown over them and into their boat by the explosion of the Alaska‘s boilers, which wrecked the Alaska amidships. The sinking of the Alaska took the lives of 48 of the 214 people on board.
According to the survivors, some of the deaths were caused by the explosion, which threw some passengers and members of the crew into the ocean. Some of those blown into the sea regained the vessel or were saved by clinging to wreckage or finding their way into lifeboats. Others, unfortunately, were either killed or drowned before help came. The Alaska’s sinking came so quickly that all the vessel’s lifeboats could not be deployed. JH Moss and CL Vilin, both of Chicago, said the lifeboat they finally reached had been swept off the decks of the Alaska as the ship settled into the ocean. Other lifeboats, never left their davits and went down with the ship. HS Laughlin of Washington DC, where he worked with the United States Shipping Board, said that a Mr and Mrs Phillips tried for an hour to be taken into a lifeboat after they had been thrown off the Alaska into the water. The survivors all praised the efforts of the officers and crew of the rescue ship Anyox under Captain Snoddy, without whom they would not have been alive.
When the Anyox picked up the first lifeboat and took its passengers aboard Second Officer Andrew Sinclair requested permission from Captain Snoddy to take the Alaska‘s lifeboat and seek survivors in the water who were swimming about and clinging to wreckage. Permission given, three seamen volunteered to accompany Sinclair. They took the lifeboat and within thirty minutes had rescued thirty persons from the water, rafts, and wreckage, and had put them aboard the Anyox. Captain Harry Hobey of the Alaska, the survivors declared, went down with his ship. Coast Guard vessels Sunday patrolled the waters looking for the wreck. The Coast Guard tugboat, Hanger brought in twelve bodies, all covered with oil. Later fishermen brought five additional bodies to San Francisco. Passengers criticized the Alaska‘s lifeboats. It was said some were not properly manned, had insufficient oars and leaked when put into the water. Nevertheless, those lifeboats had held long enough tp get the complaining passengers to safety. Sometimes, it seems like people forget to be thankful.
We have all tried our hand at skipping stones across the water, but who would have thought that such an idea could be applied to a bomb, or that it would ultimately become extremely successful in accomplishing its given task…destroying German dams and hydroelectric plants along the Ruhr valley.
During World War II, the Allies we’re desperate to cut off energy to the Nazi war machine, so the Allied engineers were given the task of finding a way to breach the defenses surrounding the dams and hydroelectric plants. In the end, it was British engineer, Barnes Wallis who came through with what he called “bouncing bombs.” To watch it in action, one is reminded of skipping stones like most of us have done in the past. In similar fashion, the bomb skips along the water bouncing over the torpedo nets to hit its target.
When World War II began, Germany had the undisputed upper hand when it came to water-based warfare with their deadly U-boats and defensive “torpedo nets” placed strategically in front of their energy-creating dams. This made it next to impossible to hit the dams with the traditional torpedo. The British Royal Air Force was determined to take out these German battlements, as they slowly wore the Axis of Evil down.
The problem was, how to somehow get past the torpedo nets, to destroy the dams and their hydroelectric plants. Wallis had to figure out how to bypass the torpedo nets, in order to make direct contact with the wall of the dams. It seemed like an insurmountable task. After dwelling on the problem for a while, Wallis seized on the potential of the Magnus effect, which would bounce a bomb across the water like a skipping stone.
The theory was to create backspin, which would counter the gravity and send the bomb skimming over the water. Once it bounced over the torpedo net, it hit the designated target. The plan seemed plausible, and the Royal Air Force commenced Operation Chastise on May 16, 1943. The results were spectacular!! As it turned out, Barnes Wallis really knew his stuff.
Those of us who live in Casper, Wyoming know about Garden Creek and Garden Creek Falls. It is a beautiful area, filled with trees and picnic tables. Hiking trails take off from the area, some of which follow the creek. Rotary Park is often full of picnickers and hikers. Everyone is out to have a great time. The Garden Creek area was a much different place in 1891, however. What we know as a day picnic area was a resort area and was lined with camps. A hotel was located at the head of Garden Creek and was a loved summer resort, frequented by local picnic parties. It was frequented by families from near and far.
On, July 31, 1891, a cloudburst occurred over Casper Mountain, right about the area of the head of Garden Creek. The creek is about seven miles long from mouth to source, and it was lined with camps. The heavy rains triggered a flash flood. The swollen creek rushed down the mountainside. The first thing the flood waters reached was the resort at the head of Garden Creek. The buildings were crushed and swept away, and the original site of the hotel was buried beneath wreckage twenty or more feet deep. The rushing floodwaters followed the creek on down the mountain, sweeping away anything in its path. Water marks indicate a volume of water 40 feet high and 495 feet wide must have passed through a narrow area about 2 miles form the mountain proper.
As the water rushed down the side of the mountain, it crashed down upon many campers up and down the creek. Many were either sleeping or just about ready to go to bed for the night. Campers, the Newby family, were sleeping when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by water. Newby heard his wife scream for help, grabbed for her, but missed, and in the next second he found himself being carried off by the rushing water. He never saw his wife or baby son alive again. Newby caught the limbs of a floating tree, He was carried about 200 yards, before he was thrown onto a bank. The body of Mrs Newby was found the next morning beneath a pile of rubble, but the Newby’s baby boy was never found. Near the Newby camp was the camp of Samuel Harrison of Alliance, Nebraska. Harrison’s two children were caught in the flood, and carried away. The bodies of the children were recovered the next morning. The tents and wagons of all the campers up and down the creek were destroyed, and at least fifty persons escaped with nothing but their pajamas. The citizens of Casper quickly stepped forward to bring food, clothing, and comfort to the survivors.
The quick response of the citizens of Casper doesn’t surprise me, because this is a city that often steps up in the face of tragedy. The flooded creek doesn’t surprise me either, because I have seen first hand just how quickly a rain storm on Casper mountain can result in a flood…even in the city proper. All that water has to go somewhere, and Sage Creek near my house is often the recipient of a large portion of that water. Thankfully it quickly drains into the Platte River, and the area returns to normal. Our mostly dry climate helps too, I suppose. The thirsty ground absorbs the water quickly. Still, it shocks me…not that Garden Creek flooded, but more, the vast difference in that area between 1891 and 2019.
Today it would be worth about $4750. Would you pay that much for a bicycle? I don’t think I would, but then I don’t suppose I would be buying a bicycle called the Spacelander. Still, if I was, $4750 would be the asking price, or something close to that number. The Spacelander was created by Benjamin Bowden, who was born June 3, 1906. He was a British industrial designer, whose specialty was automobiles and bicycles. He received violin training at Guildhall, and completed a course in engineering at Regent. Bowden designed the coachwork of Healey’s Elliott, an influential British sports car.
In 1925 Bowden began working as an automobile designer for the Rootes Group. By the late 1930s, Bowden was the chief body engineer for the Humber car factory in Coventry. During World War II, his design of an armored car was used by Winston Churchill and George VI for their protection. In 1945, he left the Rootes Group, and with partner John Allen, formed his own design company in Leamington Spa. The studio was one of the first such design firms in Britain. Bowden designed the body of Healey’s Elliott in 1947. It was the first British car to break the 100 mile per hour barrier. Working with Achille Sampietro who created the chassis, Bowden drew the initial design for the auto directly onto the walls of his house. Unusual…yes, but it worked for him, I guess. Shortly before his departure to the United States Bowden penned a sketch design for a two-seater sports racing prototype, the Zethrin Rennsport, being developed by Val Zethrin. This used the same wheelbase as the short-chassis Squire Sports, and was dressed in a contemporary, streamlined body. This design theme was carried through to his future work on the early Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird.
He went on to design the Spacelander in 1946. It was a space-age looking bicycle, that was ahead of its time, since space travel wouldn’t occur for two decades. It’s not that the Spacelander would ever be used in space, but rather the design that seemed space-like. Bowden called the bicycle the Classic. In the early or mid 1950s, Bowden moved to Michigan, in the United States. While in Muskegon, Michigan in 1959, he met with Joe Kaskie, of the George Morrell Corporation, a custom molding company. Kaskie suggested molding the bicycle in fiberglass instead of aluminum, but the fiberglass frame was relatively fragile, and its unusual nature made it difficult to market to established bicycle distributors. Although he retained the futuristic appearance of the Classic, Bowden abandoned the hub dynamo, and replaced the drive-train with a more common sprocket-chain assembly. The new name, Spacelander, was chosen to capitalize on interest in the Space Race. Financial troubles from the distributor forced Bowden to rush development of the Spacelander, which was released in 1960 in five colors: Charcoal Black, Cliffs of Dover White, Meadow Green, Outer Space Blue, and Stop Sign Red. The bicycle was priced at $89.50, which made it one of the more expensive bicycles on the market. Only 522 Spacelander bicycles were shipped before production was stopped, although more complete sets of parts were manufactured. In more recent years, the Spacelander has become a collector’s item…hence the price tag.
In World War II, my dad, Allen Spencer was the Flight Engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17. The B-17 was an amazing plane. Strategic bombing missions actually began at the tail end of World War I, And the big world powers knew that they needed to develop bomber fleets that could handle this new kind of bombing mission, because if they did not, they would be vulnerable to the evil nations who did develop such bombers. During the month of August 1934, in anticipation of rising tensions in the Pacific, the US Army Air Corps proposed a new multi-engine bomber that would replace the outdated Martin B-10. They put out the challenge and Boeing decided to get into the competition. The plan for this bomber was to provide reinforcement to bases in Hawaii, Alaska, and Panama.
Enter the B-17 Flying Fortress. Boeing competed against both Martin and Douglas for the contract to build 200 units of such a bomber, but failed to deliver, as the first B-17 Flying Fortress crashed. Nevertheless, the Air Corps loved the design so much that they ordered 13 units for further evaluation and analysis. After a string of tests, it was introduced in 1938. The B-17 was now the prime bomber for all kinds of bombing raids. The prototype B-17 Bomber was built at the company’s own expense and was a fusion of the features of Boeing XB-15 and Boeing 247 Transport Aircraft. Initially, it could carry a payload of 4850 pounds along with 5x .30-inch machine guns. The 4x Hornet Radial Engines could produce 750 HP at 2100 meters. It was a tremendous machine. A reporter from the Seattle Times would nickname it The Flying Fortress…a name that stuck, even if he didn’t know how very accurate he was.
As World War II heated up, the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into it, and the B-17 Flying Fortress became a staple, used in every single World War II combat zone and by the time production ended in 1945. Boeing along with Douglas and Vega had built 12,731 bombers. When the US 8th Airforce arrived in England in 1942, their sole mission was to destroy Germany’s ability to wage war. They would use any means necessary, from carpet bombing to precision bombing. On August 17th, 1942, eighteen B-17s launched a bombing raid over Nazi-held territory in Europe, hitting railway networks and strategic points. The Luftwaffe was unprepared and didn’t know how to best attack the new planes, but it didn’t take long to improve their tactics. The B-17s suffered losses too. On September 6th, 1943, 400 bombers were sent out to attack a ball-bearing plant, 45 didn’t return. October 4th, 60 out of 291 B-17s sent to the same location were lost. January 11th, 1944, 600 B-17s were sent to various industries. Bad weather kept all but 238 of them on base. Still, 60 were lost. These losses were quite costly when you consider that a single B-17 Flying Fortress would cost $238,329 in 1945. The Luftwaffe quickly perfected their attacks on the B-17 Flying Fortress. Head on proved more fruitful and therefore the Americans developed the term “Bandits at 12 O’clock High” for oncoming Luftwaffe fighters.
Various models of the B-17 Flying Fortress were produced, but the B-17G was the one that was most liked. Almost 9000 B-17Gs were produced, the most of any of the models, because of their superior specs. A B-17G weighed 65,000 pounds and could cruise at a speed of 150 miles per hour, peaking at 287 miles per hour. It could attain a service ceiling of 35,600 feet, and carry a 9600 pounds payload. The four Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines could produce 1200 horse power each! It was one rugged machine. One particular B-17 Bomber survived a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany, and flew back to safety with 180 flak holes and only 2 out of 4 engines in operation. The veteran never forgot, and 75 years later wrote a thank you letter to Boeing. He was thankful to be alive. My dad always felt that way too. Any amount of damage that happens to a plane can mean the difference between crashing and making it home. The B-17 was truly a flying fortress, and on of the best planes to be in. The chances of coming home were better than most.
I think most of us who have mowed the lawn in our day will attest to the fact that even if you have a self propelled lawnmower or a riding lawn mowed, if you done do that job early in the morning or on a cloudy day, its hot out there. Its usually so hot and sticky, in fact that we have to take frequent breaks to head indoors to cool off in front of the air conditioner. Finally, in the 1950s, someone decided that the world needed a cooler way to mow the lawn. So, they added what can only be described as a giant popcorn popper to a riding lawn mower. They gave it its own electric generating system for operating running lights, a radio telephone, air conditioning, and even a cooling system to provide a chilled drink on a hot day. The assumption was that people could see its value beyond the lawn. It was described as a useful tool for many purposes. It could mow the lawn, weed it, feed it, seed it, spray for insects, plow snow, and haul equipment. It was even touted as a machine that could be used as a golf cart.
The old style push mower could only be classified as a workout machine, if you ask me. It took more muscle than some of the equipment many of us pay dearly to use at the local gym. And as to speed…well, it was nonexistent. Those old rotor style lawn mowers were brutal machines, and when the job was done, you needed a hot tub, a massage, and Excedrin, not necessarily in that order. The motorized lawnmower that most households have today is considered to be an amazing tool. It makes mowing something that even kids can do. The self-propelled mowers are light weight, and actually have an engine that maneuvers it forward, with a lot less effort than the older gas and electric mowers.
I’m sure that the inventor of the air conditioned lawn mower of the fifties had visions of everyone mowing their lawns in comfort and style, but the reality is that the cost of one of the newfangled machine was far beyond what most people could afford, so it never really took off. As mowers became more and more lightweight and easier to use, the necessity of a way to keep cool has lessened, be it slightly. Still, the newfangled airconditioned riding lawnmower of the 50s was simply not cost effective, and so it was not a widely purchased or even widely known item. In one advertisement I found, it was called the “Lazy Man’s Power Mower.” I’m sure that kind of advertising didn’t exactly make people want to run out and buy one. There are air conditioned lawn mowers today, but they are mostly on industrial mowers, which makes sense, since people might spend hours at a time in one.
While researching some of the larger battles of World War II, I began to consider the brilliance of the men who planned these battles. Men like Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D Eisenhower, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral Frank Fletcher, and Admiral Raymond Spruance (who was a replacement, but proved to be instrumental in the success of Midway). These men and others like them knew that the stakes were high, and by sheer numbers, the Allies were outnumbered by the Axis armies. That said, they also knew that the fate of the world was in their hands. If they lost this war, the Japanese and Germans would quite likely take over and rule the world. Life as we knew it would cease to exist.
Strategy is everything. Of course, part of that strategy involves something that many Americans have come to hate these days…fake news. These strategic minds knew that somehow they had to fool the Japanese into believing that no attack was coming, or that the advancing armies were headed elsewhere. It sounds simple, but this wasn’t the movies. Nevertheless, information was leaked to the enemy, while the Allied armies advanced as planned. The strategy worked perfectly on D-Day when Hitler was fooled, by men he had called idiots, into thinking that the target was at some point along their Atlantic Wall…the 1,500-mile system of coastal defenses that the German High Command had constructed from the Arctic Circle to Spain’s northern border…or even as far away as the Balkans. Vital to Operation Bodyguard’s success were more than a dozen German spies in Britain who had been discovered, arrested and flipped by British intelligence officers. The Allies fed faulty information to these Nazi double agents to pass along to Berlin. A pair of double agents nicknamed Mutt and Jeff relayed detailed reports about the fictitious British Fourth Army that was gathering in Scotland with plans to join with the Soviet Union in an invasion of Norway. The Allies also fabricated radio chatter about cold-weather issues such as ski bindings and the operation of tank engines in subzero temperatures. The plan worked as Hitler sent one of his fighting divisions to Scandinavia just weeks before D-Day.
At Midway, the American “Doolittle” raid, a propaganda air attack on Tokyo launched from the carrier USS Hornet, prompted Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to plan a final showdown with the remnants of the American fleet before letting his forces rest. The “Doolittle” raid had been an insult and it had threatened the life of the emperor. Yamamoto was confident that he had the advantage in numbers and quality to destroy the American carrier fleet. He planned to confuse the enemy with a diversionary attack on the Alaskan coast, drawing the Americans north, only to launch his main attack on Midway Island the following day, which would see the Americans hurrying south, into an ambush. With a great show of overelaboration, which was typical of Japanese military planning. Yamamoto divided his force into three main groups. There were four big carriers, the battlefleet, and the invasion force. These three groups were too far apart for mutual support. The Japanese carrier group operated in close order, commanded by Admiral Nagumo, who had led them for the attack at Pearl Harbor. Nimitz, for his part, could not hope to win a direct engagement. He had to stake everything on exploiting his intelligence windfall, and try to ambush the enemy. He secretly reinforced the air units on Midway, using the island as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. His sea-going carriers were positioned to the northeast of the island, waiting to ambush the Japanese carriers when they arrived for their assault. The American tactics relied on the peculiar characteristics of carrier warfare. Nimitz knew the first attack would be decisive for either side, carriers being full of fuel and ordnance, hence highly vulnerable to bombs and torpedoes. The American tactical commanders, admirals Frank Fletcher and Raymond Spruance, also knew they were playing for very high stakes. They kept the two task forces separate. The strategy worked, and the Japanese never fully recovered.