allies

My Uncle Larry was born during the years of the Great Depression, in an era of big families. He was the 4th child and first son of my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer. While times were tough, the one thing that George and Hattie had plenty of was love. The family was rich in that. My mother, Collene Spencer, followed Uncle Larry in quick succession, arriving when he was just 20 months old. Following Mom, Uncle Wayne arrived two years later. Their childhood would be spent as close friends and allies, along with the associated sibling arguments too, I’m sure. While I’m not sure how the boys felt about Mom tagging along in things, they didn’t really complain too much, and defended their sister when needed. For her part, Mom considered these brothers, the only ones she had, to be…maybe her charges too somehow. She might very well be prone to protecting them, whether they needed it or not, even against their mother…to her detriment sometimes, because it earned her the same punishment that Grandma Byer was dishing out to her sons. Still, my mom looked up to and loved her brothers. I suppose that to a degree, being the girl between the brothers made her a bit of a tomboy, but it also shaped her into the wonderful woman who became my mom.

Uncle Larry was a determined man, who wanted something better for his family. I believe that land ownership was a part of that desire. I remember wondering as a kid, why he and my Aunt Jeanette chose to live in the country. The rest of the family at that time, were city dwellers (though Casper wasn’t a large city) and it always seemed strange to me that they lived in the country. Lots of land, however, gave them the ability to have a big place to entertain, and outbuildings to pursue any other activities they might be interested in, such as ceramics. They proudly hosted ceramics sessions with any of the family who wanted to join in. Grandma and Grandpa Byer were some of those who loved going out to get their “Crafty Side” on.

All of my grandparents kids lived most of their lives in Wyoming, most of them in Casper, so when Uncle Larry took a transfer to Louisiana with Texaco, I remember being quite shocked. I’m not sure why I should have been, because my own mother had lived for 5 years in Superior, Wisconsin, where my older sister, Cheryl and I were both born. Still, at the time, I felt kind of shocked. The refinery where Uncle Larry worked, here in Casper, closed, and he wasn’t old enough to retire, so he could take the transfer or take a layoff. The choice was simple really. They mover to Louisiana and lived their until his retirement before returning to live the rest of his life in Casper, where both of their children, Larry and Tina both live too. I remember being quite happy when they moved back here. I felt like having the family back together again. My husband, Bob and I loved running into them on occasion, often at a home improvement store, where we were both looking for some new item we needed for our houses. When he passed away, I felt very sad that those impromptu meeting would now be over. Uncle Larry passed away on December 22, 2011, and I still miss him very much. Today would nave been Uncle Larry’s 86th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Larry. We love and miss you very much.

There have always been wars, and wars include bombs of some kind. It is a fact that everyone seems to understand, and to a degree accept. I suppose they look at it as collateral damage, but the reality is that it is people, property, homes, and businesses. Sometimes I wonder if mankind will ever get to a point where collateral damage is too much to pay. Of course, that will not happen. War means death and destruction, and there will be wars as long as time endures.

The fact is that no sane human being likes the collateral damage that war brings, but there are, unfortunately, many insane heads of states. These people kill thousands of their own people for almost no reason. They simply disagree, or they look different, or they have a different religion, and that means they must die. So, war begins, and more people die to try to free the people who have been oppressed by their hateful dictators.

World War II took in the Axis of Evil nations and the Allies, who were fighting against regimes like the Nazis, and Japanese. Both were terrible, and neither wanted to give up. Finally, when it was decided that Japan had to be stopped at all costs, the United States made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians. It was another in a long list of bombing events of World War II and many other wars. It was all the same old story, right? Wrong.

The two Atomic Bombs dropped, changed the world. They were both the first, and the last times Atomic Bombs were dropped in war. It was as if the world finally saw what these bombs did to people. It was as if they finally felt sick to their stomach…both sides!! During the Cold War, there were a couple of times when the United States and the Soviet Union came close to using the Atomic Bomb, but they decided that they just couldn’t do it. That said, they decided that there really was a line that should never be crossed. Since 1945, and the dropping of two of the most devastating bombs ever, mankind has finally decided that we should not go there again, thankfully.

The American prisoners of war had heard the Allied planes pass overhead many times before, but this was different. Along with the sound of the planes, came the howling of Dresden’s air raid sirens. Dresden was known as the “Florence of the Elbe.” The American prisoners of war were moved two stories below into a meat locker. I don’t really understand that in light of the outcome. The Germans didn’t care about their prisoners, but I guess they didn’t care about their own countrymen either. Why would they move their prisoners to a place of safety, but leave the people of the town to fend for themselves. I suppose that they might have wanted the prisoners for leverage, but how good is a victory, if there are no one to live in the town.

In this instance, I suppose it didn’t matter, because when the prisoners were brought back to the surface, “the city was gone”…levelled by the bombs from the RAF and the USAAF. One prisoner, Kurt Vonnegut who was a writer and social critic, recalled the scene…shocked. The devastation was unbelievable, the bombing had reduced the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames. Still, Vonnegut could not help but be thankful that he was still alive. Who wouldn’t be thankful. He was alive, and he would be forever thankful. Who wouldn’t be. It was a second chance.

The devastating, three-day Allied bombing attack on Dresden from February 13 to 15, 1945 in the final months of World War II became one of the most controversial Allied actions of the war. Some 2,700 tons of explosives and incendiaries were dropped by 800-bomber raid and decimated the German city.
Dresden was a major center for Nazi Germany’s rail and road network. The plan was to destroy the city, and thereby overwhelm German authorities and services, and clog all transportation routes with hordes of refugees. An estimated 22,700 to 25,000 people were killed, in the attacks. Normally, Dresden had 550,000 citizens, but at the time there were approximately 600,000 refugees too. The Nazis tried to say that 550,000 had been killed, but that number was quickly proven wrong.

The Allied assault came a less than a month after 19,000 US troops were killed in Germany’s last-ditch offensive at the Battle of the Bulge, and three weeks after the grim discovery of the atrocities committed by Nazi forces at Auschwitz. In an effort to force a surrender, the Dresden bombing was intended to terrorize the civilian population locally and nationwide. It certainly had that effect in 1945.

The life of a spy is a dangerous one. Getting caught spying is often punishable by death, so the key to being a successful…and later old spy, is not to get killed, and therefore not to get caught. The spies had a number of way so fool the Nazis. One of the ways was to research the proper clothing for the area and the times, and make sure that the clothing of the spy didn’t stand out as being foreign or outdated. To miscalculated that aspect of the spy, could mean certain death.

Clothing wasn’t always the concern. When a spy is being followed, footprints can be very telling. One of the ways that the spies fooled the Nazis was the spy shoes they wore. The shoes were very functional as a way to disguise what was going on, but the looked hilarious. The idea of the shoes was to make the person following the spy think that the spy was going the opposite direction from that which the spy was really going. Basically, the shoe was put on the sole backwards. That way, the person following the spy, would think he was walking toward the spy, when he was actually walking away from him. The technique gave the spy precious time to get far away from the enemy who was tracking him. The only problem for the spy was the shape of the shoe. It seems to me that the shape of the shoe would feel very odd to the spy. Nevertheless, the shoe was necessary, and so the spy got used to it. I suppose the feeling was similar to a child putting their shoes on the wrong feet. It is thought that the shoes might have first been used by Moonshiners during the prohibition period.

Our more modern day thought concerning spy shoes and other equipment is probably far more advanced. The shoes might have contained a knife in the heel or even a shoe phone, like Maxwell Smart…on the show “Get Smart.” Of course, much of that is fiction, and I don’t know if real modern day spies even use special shoes or any other special spy tools, for that matter. The Backward Spy Shoes were a very simple tool, but it would seem that they were highly effective during World War II. The only problem I see with a shoe that takes a tracker back to the starting point of the spy who is being pursued is that it would make it impossible to return to the point of origin for fear of being tracked there. Of course if the spy walked to a public place, like a train station, and then switched shoes, they could easily get lost in the crowd, never to be found. Either way, the shoes were a clever way to outsmart the enemy.

Most people have heard of, and seen, the James Bond movies. Of course, Bond is a fictional British agent, known as 007, and his character has been played by a number of actors over the years, but in reality, he is fictional. Renato Levi, who was also known as CHEESE, MR. ROSE, LAMBERT, EMILE, or ROBERTO, was a Jewish-Italian adventurer and double-agent for the British in World War II. Levi was instrumental in setting up a wireless transmitter in Cairo. The transmitter fed false information to the Axis powers over the course of the war. It was a great tool for the Allies. Unfortunately, Levi was captured and imprisoned shortly after he accomplished his mission. Levi’s “CHEESE” network helped to outflank Rommel at the battle of El Alamein in Egypt, as well as placing other, strategic misinformation that aided the Allies, including at Normandy.

Levi almost always flew under the radar, especially in the British National Archives. Even in recent books about spies and counter-intelligence, the accomplishments of Renato Levi still receive barely a mention and the specifics about his part in all this is often confused. In all reality, Levi’s files have only recently been released, and even then Levi’s, aliases “Cheese,” “Lambert,” or “Mr. Rose” seem to be identified openly only once in his classified dossier. Indeed, in his national documents, there is evidence of redaction everywhere, including Levi’s primary codename “CHEESE” has been carefully handwritten in tiny, blocky letters over white-out, in order to re-establish a place in history.

The CHEESE network, out of Cairo, took a significant hit to its credibility when Levi was arrested and convicted in late 1941 or early 1942. The British came up with an imaginary agent. “Paul Nicossof” was able to regain and retain the trust of the Germans, which is one of the most interesting features of this story. Thanks to the expert manipulations of the British Intelligence operatives controlling the wireless, the CHEESE network was considered credible again by June of 1942…just in time for “A” Force to start planting counter-intelligence prior to the commencement of Operation Bertram at El Alamein in Egypt during October of 1942.

Most interesting to note are the ways that the intelligence operatives used payment schedules…or, rather, the German’s lack of payment to “Paul Nicossof”…to establish credibility about the fictitious informant’s information. “Nicossof” was portrayed as moody and inconsistent, because efforts to pay him were always unsuccessful. His “handlers” credited Germany’s inability to pay “Nicossof” as the way they were able to extend his character beyond the “impasse” that would normally constitute a non-military informant. “Nicossof” could portray himself as the “man who brought Rommel to Egypt,” which would get him paid for his troubles at last, as well as the glory and medals that went with it…all to a fictitious agent!!

Perhaps because of the British Intelligence’s efforts to make “Nicossof” convincing and because Levi was so good under duress in prison, the Germans never really lost faith in the CHEESE operative network. They were starved for information, and CHEESE held the only promise for any intelligence about the Middle East. The Germans blamed the Italians for the confinement of their only key agent in the Middle East, Renato Levi. For whatever the reason, the Germans trusted Levi, but he never broke or compromised his duty to the Allied forces.

After looking at these newly declassified documents some people have tried to press Levi into the service of a “Hero Spy” figure, but in reality, Levi was a far more complicated figure and these whitewashed narratives don’t really tell the whole story of Levi’s complexity, nor the complexity of his work. Levi’s story also reveals much about the inner workings of the German Abwehr and the nature of the Italian Intelligence operations. Levi’s British handlers speculated that it was unlikely that the German and Italian Intelligence bureaus had a great deal of communication between them. The Germans were really overly satisfied with Levi’s original purpose of establishing a wireless transmitter network, to their detriment in the end.

It seems that Levi’s ultimate fate is unknown. It is true that the CHEESE network was in full swing throughout the war, and many have credited “CHEESE” with hoodwinking the Germans in a big way on many occasions. Perhaps Levi was again affiliated with CHEESE after his release, or maybe not. Regardless, Renato Levi, who had always loved travel, intrigue, and a really good lie, did a remarkable service to the Allied forces by instituting one of the best and most productive counter-intelligence operations of World War II, and he kept it all safe.

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.

Most people from the Baby Boomer Generation know the significance of D-Day, but it occurs to me that many people in the younger generations may not really know what it was all about. Operation Overlord was the Allied invasion of northern France, commonly known as D-Day. The operation was under the direction of Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The operation had a brief 3 day window in which to take place, and June 5th had been chosen to be the day, but the day dawned gloomy, so the operation had to be scrubbed for the day.

Then on June 6th, the orders came down that Operation Overlord was a go. By daybreak, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion, among them the B-17, Raggedy Ann, which was carrying my dad, Allen Spencer, who was a Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer. At 6:30 am, American troops came ashore at Utah and Omaha beaches. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, as did the Americans at Utah. Omaha beach was a much different situation, however, where the US First Division battled high seas, mist, mines, burning vehicles, and German coastal batteries, including an elite infantry division, which spewed heavy fire. Many wounded Americans ultimately drowned in the high tide. British divisions, which landed at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and Canadian troops also met with heavy German fire.

The troops persevered, even though the loses were great, and in the end the operation was declared a victory. There were many reasons that D-Day was successful, even against all odds. The Allies had fooled the Germans, who thought the attack was going to occur farther along the coast at Calais because this was the shortest route by sea, even when the attack began on the beaches Hitler was still convinced the attack was going to occur at Calais. What a shock that must have been when he found out that the attack took place on the beaches of Normandy. False intelligence spread by the allies spread false information to the Germans, and they bought it.

There were many factors that all worked together to make the plan work. Wooden guns on the South Coast of England, wooden planes, dropped plastic dummies out of planes, they put mirrors up on their ships and the Germans were fooled as they saw themselves going the other way. New technology specifically designed for the landing enabled the Allies to gain an advantage over the Germans. Mulberries, the floating docks the Allies used to land, enabled the Allies to land safely and disembark while firing. Some of the beaches were practically empty, however, on Omaha beach the Allies suffered heavy losses numbering 2000 in total. Operation Overlord had been planned for many years and so they were ready. The Germans had to keep control of the other parts of their empires, so their troops were elsewhere. Hitler denied that his forces were losing in Normandy, and would not authorize the mobilization of forces stationed near Normandy.

As for the Allies, the troops involved were highly trained, equipped and motivated. Their battle plan was well prepared. All the necessary manpower and logistics were available to them. The air space was controlled by the Allies. The sea lanes were very short and the seas were in Allied hands. The deception plan was flawless. The Germans had no idea what was coming. The French Resistance was highly effective. The German troop who were there were poorly motivated. Hitler’s Defense Planning was completely flawed. But, the biggest victory is that the troops did their job.

The Japanese had a tendency to be sneaky about their weapons of warfare, and their attack plans, as we know from Pearl Harbor. One such well kept secret was the Hiryu…which means Flying Dragon. The ship was a modified Soryu design that was built exclusively for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Soryu, which means Blue Dragon, was built first, and because of the heavy modifications, the Hiryu was almost considered to be a separate class of ship. Hiryu had a displacement of 17,600 tons, length of 746 feet 1 inch, beam of 73 feet 2 inches, draft of 25 feet 7 inches and a speed of 34 knots. Built in 1931, “these two ships became prototypes for almost all subsequent Japanese carriers. They had continuous flight deck, two-level hangar, small island superstructure, two deflexed down and aft funnels and three elevators. As a whole ship design (within the limits of displacement assigned on it) has appeared rather successful, harmoniously combining high speed with strong AA armament and impressive number of air group.” The Hiryu, unlike the small height hangar levels of the Soryu, was built to an advanced design. “Her freeboard height was increased by one deck, island was transferred to a port side (Hiryu became second after Akagi and last Japanese carrier with an island on a port side). Breadth of a flight deck was increased on 1m, a fuel stowage on 20%. She had a little strengthened protection: belt thickness abreast machinery raised to 48mm.”

Hiryu took part in Japanese invasion of French Indochina (Now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) in mid 1940s, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Wake Island. The ship became a great enemy of the Allies. Then, along with three other fleet carriers, Hiryu participated in the Battle of Midway Atoll in North Pacific Ocean in June 1942. Initially, the Japanese forces managed to bombard US forces on the atoll. It didn’t look good for the Allies, but on June 4, 1942, the Japanese aircraft carriers were attacked by dive-bomber aircraft from USS Enterprise, USS Yorktown, USS Hornet, and Midway Atoll. Hiryu was hit and severely crippled, and was set on fire. Japanese destroyer Makigumo torpedoed Hiryu on June 5, 1942 at 05:10 am, because she could not be salvaged. Only 39 men survived as after 4 hours, she sank with bodies of 389 men. Three other Japanese carriers were also sunk during the Battle of Midway. It was a battle that brought Japan’s first naval defeat since the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits in 1863. It was a great day for the Allies.

Every new for of weapon or battle plan must have a first time of use. I don’t know if the soldiers or the inventors would be more nervous as this plan unfolded, but my guess is the soldiers, who must place their lives in the hands of the inventor, and pray that he knew what he was doing. The Battle of Crete, also known as Operation Mercury was fought during World War II on May 20, 1941 to May 21, 1941. It was short-lived mostly because of the “firsts” the Allies saw during this battle.

On that day, May 20, 1941, the Nazis began an airborne invasion of the island of Crete. Greek forced were joined by other Allied troops to defend the island. After one day of fighting, the Germans appeared to be losing, as they had suffered heavy casualties. This gave the Allies a feeling of confidence in their victory over the Nazis. Unfortunately that feeling of confidence was a little premature. The next day, the Allies encountered some communication failures, and due to the Allied tactical hesitation, as well as German offensive operations, Maleme Airfield in western Crete fell to the Germans. This enabled the Germans to land reinforcements and overwhelm the defensive positions on the north side of the island. The Allied forces had no choice but to withdrew to the south coast. More than half of them were evacuated by the British Royal Navy, but the remainder surrendered or joined the Cretan resistance. The defense of Crete evolved into a costly naval engagement, and by the end of the campaign the Royal Navy’s eastern Mediterranean strength had been reduced to only two battleships and three cruisers…not enough to defend anything.

So…what made this an operation of firsts? The Battle of Crete was the first time that German paratroops, known as Fallschirmjäger, were used en masse. It was also the first mainly airborne invasion in military history, and the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from decrypted German messages from the Enigma machine. It was also the first time German troops encountered mass resistance from a civilian population. Prior to this time the Nazis held enough power over the civilians to force them to comply. These people fought back…for the first time. Due to the number of casualties and the belief that airborne forces no longer had the advantage of surprise, Adolf Hitler became reluctant to authorize further large airborne operations, preferring instead to employ paratroopers as ground troops. In contrast, the Allies were impressed by the potential of paratroopers and started to form airborne-assault and airfield-defense regiments of their own. Major changes in military history, brought about by one battle.

Almost immediately after he gained power in Germany, Adolph Hitler began making plans to control the world. He never was and never would be happy with just being the dictator of Germany. By May of 1940, Hitler had a plan in place to seize control. On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium under the operational plan Fall Gelb, or Case Yellow. The Battle of Belgium or Belgian Campaign, often referred to within Belgium as the 18 Days’ Campaign. The Allied armies tried to halt the German Army in Belgium, thinking it to be the main German thrust. After the French had fully committed the best of the Allied armies to Belgium between 10 and 12 May, the Germans enacted the second phase of their operation. It was an unexpected move, and since the Allies were unprepared, the Germans advanced toward the English Channel. The German Army reached the Channel after five days, encircling the Allied armies. The Germans gradually reduced the pocket of Allied forces, forcing them back to the sea. The Belgian Army surrendered on 28 May 1940, ending the Battle of Belgium.

The first tank battle of the war occurred during the Battle of Belgium. It was called the Battle of Hannut. It was the largest tank battle in history at the time, but was later surpassed by the battles of the North African Campaign and the Eastern Front. The battle also included the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael, the first strategic airborne operation using paratroopers ever attempted. It would seem that there were a lot of firsts that happened during the 18 days of the Battle of Belgium.

Strangely, the official German historic account stated that in the 18 days of bitter fighting, the Belgian Army were tough opponents, and spoke of the “extraordinary bravery” of its soldiers. That surprises me, because the Germans hated to appear weaker than their opponents. Nevertheless, in the end, the Belgium forces were no match for the Germans, and the Belgian collapse forced the Allied withdrawal from continental Europe. The British Royal Navy were forced to evacuate Belgian ports during Operation Dynamo, allowing the British Expeditionary Force, along with many Belgian and French soldiers, to escape capture and continue military operations. France reached its own armistice with Germany in June 1940. Belgium continued to be occupied by the Germans until the autumn of 1944, when it was finally liberated by the Western Allies.

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