Archive for March, 2015

Footage captures US air raids on Japan in dying days of WWII

March 17th, 2015

In one sequence, filmed on July 24, 1945, US forces attack the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Amagi as it sits at anchor off Kure, Japan’s most important naval base during the war.

The footage also shows attacks on the heavy cruiser Tone and Oyodo, a light cruiser, with near misses clearly rippling out on the surface of Etajima Bay.

The grainy images also show rocket attacks on land targets, including factories manufacturing aircraft in Kure, while another clip, shot through the rear canopy of the US aircraft, shows a pall of smoke rising above the Kure Naval Arsenal after a raid on June 22, 1945. The war ended less than two months later.

Japanese records indicate that 162 B-29 Superfortress bombers attacked Kure shipyard – the home port of the battleship Yamato, which had only been sunk in April 1945 – dropping more than 700 tons of bombs.

“As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we are hoping to pass down to younger generations the reality of war by collecting important wartime footage”, Soei Hirata, head of the civic group, told the Asahi.


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British D-Day veteran to receive highest French accolade

March 16th, 2015

Troops on Juno Beach, Normandy, during the D Day landings (HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY)

Mr Turner will receive his award from Captain Francois Jean, the consul honoraire of France, on behalf of French president Francois Hollande.

He said: “This is a great honour that I wasn’t expecting. I know that I’ll be thinking of those who didn’t make it, my friends who didn’t come back from the Normandy beaches after D-Day.”

The French government informed the UK Ministry of Defence last year that it wanted to recognise the selfless acts of heroism displayed by surviving veterans of the Normandy landings.

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Mr Turner was born and brought up in Hilsea, Portsmouth, and at 17 he decided to go to the city’s recruiting office and sign up for the RAF, but he was too young. Instead he was taken on by the Royal Marines in January 1943.

He and three other colleagues manned a landing craft which was based at Itchenor, near Chichester. On June 4, 1944, they sailed across to Lee-on-Solent and came alongside a Canadian troop ship.

And on June 5, they sailed across the Channel in their landing craft as part of the invasion.

Mr Turner said: “It was very quiet, no one spoke. Then when we got close to the beach, the Germans started firing and it was pretty noisy. I was used to it, as my dad had been in charge of the firewatch in Portsmouth, so I’d heard air raids and gunfire anyway.

“I wasn’t frightened. I was only young, so it felt a bit like an adventure to me, even at that stage. We landed the Canadian engineers and their equipment on the beach and then backed off, so we could see what was going on. Some landing craft were hit and started sinking, some Canadians were being shot around us.

“We slept on the beach that night, and I remember a German plane coming over and flying very low. We were all firing at it. The next day, we started unloading all the ships by landing craft. Most of the boxes we unloaded seemed to be food.

“The next day, the Canadians dug a trench for the dead bodies and covered them over. But we saw a few bodies still floating on the tide, even a week after D-Day.”

Mr Turner will receive the award on Monday March 23.


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World War Two hero’s wedding ring returned 70 years after it was lost

March 13th, 2015

The ring was presented to one of his surviving relatives, his 92-year-old sister, Dorothy Webster, along with a fuel gauge from the bomber and a rock from the mountain into which it crashed.

The inside of the gold ring is inscribed with the names John and Joyce – Flt Sgt Thompson had married a Londoner called Joyce Mozley in June 1944, before being sent off on active service. She remarried after the war but died in 1995.

His Halifax, part of 148 Squadron, crashed about 25 miles north of Tirana, the Albanian capital, while delivering weapons and other supplies to Albanian partisans fighting the Nazis.

In 1960 a local man, Jaho Cala, found the ring while out collecting wood in the mountains.

Nervous about informing the Communist authorities of the Hoxha regime, he took it home and kept it hidden for decades.

He later revealed its existence to his son, Xhemil Cala, instructing him to try to find out who it belonged to.

His son, who became a police officer, wore the ring for years and made several attempts to find out who it belonged to, but without success.

Two years ago he contacted the British and American embassies in Tirana, guessing that it may have belonged to an Allied airman flying missions over Albania.

In October, a team of British and US officials located the remains of the aircraft on the sides of a 6,000ft high mountain.

The British embassy were eventually able to confirm that the ring belonged to Sgt Thompson, who came from Darley Dale in Derbs. The embassy contacted his family and the relatives of the six other RAF crew members.

“Seventy years we’ve waited. We can’t believe that we’re here today celebrating this after all this time,” Mrs Webster, who was a year younger than her brother, told The Associated Press. “My father would have been thrilled to pieces with it all.”

She said she was “overwhelmed” to receive the ring and other items and that she still remembered her brother “very well, as if it were yesterday.”

She was accompanied by four of his nephews and other family members at a ceremony at the Albanian defence ministry in Tirana.

“Your brother helped to liberate my country. He will never be forgotten,” Mimi Kodheli, the defence minister, told her.

“All these years it has been a story of loss,” said one of her sons, Alan Webster. “We now know almost everything that happened. It’s a sense of closure. We know where John is. He’s over there in the mountain.”

His brother, Brian Webster, said: “Our grandfather and grandmother never locked the house in Matlock – (they were) waiting for their missing son.”

Another relative, Philip Thompson, said the family had struggled to obtain information from the War Office about Sgt Thompson’s fate “because he was part of a secret operation in Albania.”or a long time the family believed that he had crashed in Poland.

Presenting the ring, Xhemil Cala said he was relieved to have fulfilled his father’s wish that it be returned to the airman’s family. “I will go to his grave and say rest in peace for your dying wish has been fulfilled,” he said.

Arthur Gilbert, 91, a childhood friend of the RAF flight engineer, told the Matlock Mercury last year: “He was a cheery little lad and he came from a big family. It was very sad to hear that he had never returned from the war.”


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David Cameron to boycott Moscow’s WWII commemorations in protest over Ukraine crisis

March 12th, 2015

The Prime Minister’s Deputy Official Spokesman said: “We will be considering our representation in light of our ongoing discussions with Russia, and our concerns about their activity.

“We don’t have plans for the Prime Minister to attend, and I’m sure we will set out who will represent the government in due course.”

“We would consider our representation within our broader ongoing relationship with Russia. Recently, there have not been ministerial visits, and we will take that into account when we consider who attends.”

Vladimir Putin had sent invitations to the parade to a host of world leaders, but has been met with refusals from the Presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the German Chancellor. President Obama has also refused, citing a tight schedule. Mrs Merkel will attend a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the following day.

In a re-emergence of old Cold War loyalties, the leaders of Vietnam, Serbia, the Czech Republic, China and North Korea are expected to attend.

“It will not affect the spirit, the emotional aspect and the scale of the holiday,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman said earlier, said of the apparent boycott.


Russian servicemen march during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow’s Red Square

Victory Day ranks among the most important days in the Russian calendar, with more than 20 million Soviet citizens killed in the war, and is marked with a mass parade of tanks, troops and missiles on Red Square in Moscow and the overflight of dozens of jets and bombers.

It falls on May 9 – the day after Britain marks Victory in Europe Day, and two days after the General Election is held.

This year’s event is likely to be highly politicised and feature the largest display of military hardware in years, including a newly formed aerobatics team named Crimean Wings.

Russian media daily compares the fighting in Ukraine to the Second World War, with claims that the Ukrainian government is a “Fascist junta” and warnings that Jewish people are in danger. The orange and black Ribbon of St George, widely associated with the Great Patriotic War, has been adopted as a symbol of the separist fighters.

David Cameron last visited Russia for the G20 summit in St Petersburg. That saw Mr Cameron launching an impassioned defence of Britain after it was dismissed by a Russian official as “just a small island”.

In 1995, during the post-Cold War thaw, John Major and Bill Clinton attended commemorations in Moscow to mark fifty years since the end of the war. In 2005, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, represented Britain alongside President Bush. Tony Blair sent apologies, having only days before won a third general election.


Better times: Welsh Guards in Red Square on Victory Day, 2010

In 2010, Nato troops from Britain, France, Poland the US marched alongside 10,000 Russians.

The EU has imposed sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on some 151 people and 37 entities, in response to the assault on Ukrainian sovereignty. The Foreign Secretary this week warned that Russia, which is rapidly modernising its military, as at risk of becoming the single greatest threat to British national security.

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Video: David Cameron warns Vladimir Putin


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Mary Ellis was a Spitfire pilot in WW2. At 98, she still flies

March 11th, 2015

“Come to lunch,” said some friends on the Isle of Wight, “there’s a lady we’d like you to meet.” And so we went, and we met her – a slight woman, with a twinkle in her eye and a warm, engaging smile – and were simply enchanted by the most remarkable story.

Mary Ellis is 98 and bright as a button. When she was at school she was hopeless at hockey and so she opted for another sporting endeavour: she learnt to fly. It was at an air show in Hendon that she was bitten by the bug, after persuading her father to let her take a pleasure flight in an Avro 504. “From that moment I was hooked,” said Mary. She had been awarded her flying licence by the time she was 16. That in itself is remarkable, but it was only the beginning of Mary’s story, for in 1941 she heard an appeal on the radio by the civilian Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) for women pilots. She applied, took a flying test and was accepted into their ranks.

At Hatfield, Mary Wilkins, as she then was, learnt to fly Spitfires, Hurricanes and Harvards with the object of delivering the newly manufactured planes to the bases from which they would be used. After basic training Mary was based at Hamble on the south coast, and during the war she single-handedly delivered 76 types of aircraft, including about 400 Spitfires. I say single-handedly as Mary was alone in the aircraft, which was equipped only with a compass and a stopwatch. She found her way to her target using a map. The ATA delivered 308,567 aircraft during the war; Mary’s own total was in the region of 1,000 planes. I asked her if she had been shot at. “Just the once,” she said. During the war, 143 ATA pilots were lost – one in 10 did not survive – including 14 women. “Attagirls”, they were called, and not without cause.

Seated in her first Spitfire prior to delivery, Mary was asked by the mechanic who had helped her into the cockpit, “How many times have you flown one of these?” As she relates the story her face breaks into a smile. “I said never, and he fell off the wing.”

Of the different planes that Mary piloted, the Wellington bomber was probably the largest. That such an aircraft could be handled by such a slender young woman filled many with disbelief. Having landed and taxied a Wellington to its parking place at an airfield, Mary climbed down the ladder to be greeted by the ground crew who asked her where the pilot was.

“I’m the pilot,” she said. It was not until they had searched the aircraft that they finally believed her.

At the end of the war Mary delivered the very first Meteor jet. “You will run out of fuel in about 35 minutes, so make sure you’re down by then.” She did.

In 2006 a memorial to the ATA pilots was erected at White Waltham airfield in Berkshire. Though rarely the subject of recognition, they deserve our gratitude and our admiration, for their work was every bit as vital as the Battle of Britain pilots whose aircraft they delivered.

Mary still gets airborne, though she no longer flies solo. The light in her eyes when she talks of her experiences is completely infectious, but she is as interested in other people and their stories as in relating her own. “I’m nothing special,” said Mary at our lunch. “I’m just ordinary.”

Perhaps she will forgive us if we beg to differ.


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Kind-hearted strangers surprise WWII veteran with touching note at birthday meal

March 11th, 2015

“I did 27 years on the police department and people never cease to amaze me in bad and good ways,” his son, Robert, told Opposing Views.

He added: “My dad is my hero and this was I think more of a happy moment for me than him, seeing someone appreciate him in this way actually brought tears to my eyes.”

Mr Nieman believes the generous couple spotted his father’s black and yellow Lexington hat before taking care of the bill.

“I wheeled my dad in and sat him down as I usually do,” he explained. “I noticed one couple across from us watching … 10 minutes later they were gone.”


The USS Lexington during WWII

Bob Nieman Jr. added his father started “beaming from ear to ear” when the waiter informed them their bill had already been taken care of and showed him the message.

The WWII veteran is one of the last remaining crew members of the USS Lexington 16, whose planes destroyed hundreds of enemy aircraft during the war.

The Japanese reported the USS Lexington had been sunk four times, earning her the nickname ‘The Blue Ghost’.


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Priceless Japanese artefacts taken by tourist who thought they were souvenirs

March 10th, 2015

During the war, the island of Okinawa was forced to use the Japanese language the rest of the country used rather than their own dialect for the purposes of unification.

Anyone heard using their native tongue would be forced to wear the wooden plaque around their neck.

Museum director Peter Roberts-Taira said: “I’m very, very relieved.

“It’s the first time these items have ever been out of Japan, so the museums themselves were taking a risk.

“It was Saturday, right at the very end of the day when everyone was packing away that we realised they had gone.

“One was a wooden plaque with some Japanese on it, the other was a maths book which children had in their classrooms.

“You wouldn’t know they were valuable to look at, so maybe somebody just though they could take them.

“The message went out wider to people who asked their friends, and apparently they discovered a friend of a friend had thought those things were possible to take away as souvenirs.

“They are irreplaceable, if they are gone, they are gone forever. It’s very, very special to have them at all.”

The artefacts are now being returned to the Peace Memorial Museum in Okinawa.


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Friend tells of tragic last meeting with Anne Frank

March 10th, 2015

Years later, at Bergen-Belsen, the emaciated Frank told her she was hoping to use the diary to write a book about her experiences after the war. “If she was still alive, I am convinced that she would have become an excellent writer,” Mrs Konig said.

Mrs Konig, who appears in the diary under the false initials ES, spoke out about her childhood friend ahead of a new documentary on what happened to Frank and her family after the diary abruptly ends with her capture.

The two girls met in 1941 at a Jewish school in Amsterdam, where the Franks had fled in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism in Germany, only to find themselves trapped when the Germans occupied the Netherlands.

In 1942, the Franks went into hiding. They survived in secrecy for two years, but were captured and taken to Auschwitz in 1944. Mrs Konig did not see her friend again until she spotted her in Bergen-Belsen, where Frank was transferred in late 1944. “I saw Anne walking on the other side of some barbed wire. I couldn’t go near it, though, I would have been tortured or killed,” she said.

Later the wire was taken down and the two girls were able to talk. “She was depleted, wrapped in blankets because her clothes were full of lice,” Mrs Konig said. “It was from Anne that I learnt what was happening in Auschwitz.”

Anne Frank: The Nazi Capture premieres Tuesday 10th March at 8pm on National Geographic Channel


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Bombing of Tokyo: The mass graves under the cherry blossom

March 9th, 2015

Before the bombing, Ms Takagi’s father’s factory had been ordered to make medical equipment, such as syringes. Her two older brothers signed up at the ages of 16 and 17.

But her mother fretted.

“I was too young to have a real understanding of what was going on around us, but from the beginning my mother, whose name was Hide, said Japan would lose the war,” she said.

“I remember one day she got out a map of the world and told me to go into the kitchen to get a dried chili. She put the chili on top of Japan on the map and it was the same size. She then showed me how big America was, how many colonies Britain and France had.

“She told me there was no way a country the size of a chili could beat those powerful countries,” she said. “But she told us not to say anything about it outside the house because we could get into trouble”.

By 1944, the tide of the war in the Pacific had turned decisively against Japan and the authorities ordered that children be evacuated to the countryside. Ms Takagi and her two younger sisters – Nobuko, 9, and Mitsuko, 7 – were sent to stay with a family in Ninomiya, a coastal town south of the capital.

In late February 1945, Mrs Takagi’s sisters returned for a brief visit to their home and were meant to stay just a short time.

But when it was time to go, the two young girls refused to leave their parents. Ms Takagi went back to Ninomiya by herself to sit her school entrance exams and her mother said she would bring her sisters at the end of March.

Operation Meetinghouse took place on the nights of March 9 and 10, and US bombers dropped 1,665 tons of bombs, the majority 500lb cluster bombs, each of which split into 38 napalm bomblets at 2,000ft.


Tokyo after the 1945 firebombing (USAF)

Most of the homes in Tokyo in 1945 were still simple constructions of wood and paper. Fanned by a strong breeze, the individual blazes were quickly whipped up into a firestorm, overwhelming the city’s pitifully inadequate fire-fighting capabilities.

As well as the 100,000 dead, an estimated 125,000 were injured and 1.5 million lost their homes. The raid killed more people than the comparable attack on the German city of Dresden, as well as the immediate casualties of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later. The firestorm also destroyed countless small companies churning out equipment for the Japanese war effort.

Survivors’ accounts tell of women running through the streets with burning babies strapped to their backs, of people leaping into swimming pools to try to escape the flames only to be boiled alive.


Kameido district after the firebombing (AP)

“Canals boiled, metal melted and buildings and human beings burst spontaneously into flames”, wrote John Dower in “War Without Mercy”.

It was the morning of March 11 when Ms Takagi first learned of the tragedy in fragmentary and censored radio reports. As she prayed for the survival of her family, her father arrived at the home of her host family to break the news: he had been unable to find her mother or sisters.

“I was angry and scared at the same time”, she said. “I said we should go and find them straight away, that we had to leave immediately.”

Her father refused, saying the sight was too terrible for her to see. He returned to continue the search but they never did find out exactly what had happened.

Eventually, Mrs Takagi travelled back to Tokyo and was horrified at the sight that greeted her.

“Everything was completely gone”, she said. “We could see all the way across the city to Ueno; there was nothing.”

Determined to salvage something of their earlier lives, she began digging in the ashes of their home until she came across a glass rabbit that her father had made before the war, although it had been melted and warped by the heat of the fires.


The industrial section of Tokyo along the Sumida River, March 9, 1945 (AP)

Neighbours told them that the nearby Sumida River had run red for five days with the blood of the city’s residents. Because victims were charred beyond recognition, the army simply put the corpses in trucks and buried them in mass graves.

The war was not over, however, and Ms Takagi’s father was ordered to move to Niigata, on the northern coast of Japan, and open a new factory making medical supplies. As she stood beside him at the station waiting for the train to take them to Niigata, it was strafed by US fighters, killing her father immediately.

Japan surrendered 10 days later. Mercifully, her two older brothers both survived the war and they were reunited later in 1945.

Printed in 1977, Mrs Takagi’s book that recounts her experiences as a child, as well as a plea against any further wars, is called The Glass Rabbit.

Translated into eight languages, the book has sold nearly three million copies around the world and Mrs Takagi has given 1,657 lectures.

“It was madness that Japan kept fighting after Italy and then Germany surrendered”, she said. “I want the world to know what happened here in Tokyo. And I want people to know that when a nation has poor leaders, lots of people will die. And that’s as true today as it was 70 years ago”.


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Watch: footage shows wreck of long-lost WWII Japanese battleship

March 8th, 2015

Mr Allen’s publicity agency Edelman said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr Allen and his research team aboard his superyacht M/Y Octopus found the ship over the weekend in the Sibuyan Sea, more than eight years after their search began.

The Musashi sank in October 1944 in the Sibuyan Sea during the battle of Leyte, losing half of its 2,400 crew members.

Japanese battleship Musashi leaving Brunei in 1944 for the Battle of Leyte Gulf

An organisation that supports Japanese navy veterans and conducts research on maritime defence said that if the discovery is confirmed, a memorial service could be held at the site.

Mr Allen said he respects the sunken area as a war grave and plans to work with Japan’s government to make sure the site is treated respectfully in line with Japanese traditions.


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