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Tag: World War II

The Fighting Lady: The Lady and the Sea, 1945

Strafing and bombing missions over Japanese-held islands? Aerial dogfights? Classified destinations in the Pacific? All in a day’s work for the Fighting Lady. This vintage film captures life aboard the Yorktown aircraft carrier during World War II.… [ Read all ]

Escape and Evasion files at the National Archives

b-17

The B-17s, including this one, called the Big Yank, flew many raids from England into Europe (Roosevelt Library; ARC 195654).

Escape and evasion files are firsthand accounts of a military personnel’s escape from behind enemy lines. In World War II, thousands of U.S. troops crashed in Nazi territory and had to evade capture or escape from German prisons. The National Archives recently digitized 2,953 firsthand accounts of escape and evasion during the war.

Each account reads like a Hollywood script, and although each is a gripping tale of perseverance, there are some that stand out as truly remarkable. We here at POH have summarized and linked our 10 favorite tales, including emergency landings into soccer games, fake Nazi salutes, and Boy Scout disguises.

2nd Lt. John Dunbar – It was the Fourth of July in 1943 when Dunbar’s plane was shot out of the sky over La Pallice, France. After receiving assistance from local Frenchmen in the German-occupied territory he marched for 18 days through France dressed as a peasant. For five of those days he had no food. For the rest, he survived off beer and scraps of food that had fallen off carts along the road. Three weeks later he crossed the Pyrenees mountains on foot into Spain, where he was captured by the Guardia Civil and later released.

Sgt. William Davidson was taken … [ Read all ]

How the Boy Scouts won World War II

boy-scouts-again

A poster from WWI uses the Boy Scouts to promote buying war bonds. In WWII, Scouts were responsible for distributing these types of posters (ARC Identifier 512598).

This year is the big centennial of the Boy Scouts of America. Thousands of young Scouts will gather together next week at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia to celebrate 100 years of scouting.

Sixty years ago, Boy Scouts were swarming the towns and cities of North America. But they weren’t camping or earning badges. They were working for the Federal Government.

With the men out in the battlefield, women were encouraged to fill positions in factories and fields. They were also faced with other challenges, such as rationed food. To help promote work and cooperation on the homefront, the Office of War Information (OWI) created informative and inspirational  posters to be hung in stores.

How could these posters be quickly distributed—and how could the OWI be confident that they would be put up?

Enter the Boy Scouts. In 1942 they had been in existence for 32 years. They were organized, recognizable, and a part of their communities across America.

The OWI quickly took advantage of this network, starting in October 1942 with a poster for Columbus Day. Every two weeks, thousands of new posters were distributed to 2,300 participating communities, and the Boy Scouts made sure they … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Daring escapes from Nazi prisons!

In honor of Bastille Day earlier this week, we present a French “moustache.”

This moustache decorates the face of General Giraud, here seen out walking in the gardens of the cliffside fortress Konigstein, where he was held as a POW by the Germans. He was captured in May of 1940 and escaped two years later. According to a 1949 Life magazine article, about 100 French generals were held prisoner. Giraud was the only one who escaped.

It wasn’t the first time Giraud had escaped imprisonment. He had served in WWI and broken free from an enemy prison then as well.

This time, he escaped a heavily guarded fortress. Because it was  patrolled at night, he escaped during the day “by climbing down a blind angle of the 150-foot wall, outside the range of vision of the permanent watchtower secretary and between the regular rounds made by other guards” (Life, 1949).

And where did he get the rope to rappel down a fortress wall?

It was made from “raw material . . . accumulated painstakingly from short pieces of twine used for tying prisoners’ parcels from France” stolen from the prison post office by “a courageous young French corporal” (Life, 1949). The bits of twine were then woven into a rope, 150 feet long and 22 inches think, with a piece of wood at … [ Read all ]

The Japanese Invasion of America

While June 6, 1944, is best known as the day when Allied forces invaded Nazi-occupied Europe, there was another invasion that took place on almost the same day, just two years prior: the Japanese invasion of the United States.

On June 7, 1942, Japanese forces moved onto the Alaskan territorial island of Attu—an Aleutian Island closer to Japan than to mainland Alaska, setting the stage for the only land battle in World War II that would take place on U.S. soil.

When the Japanese invaded, there were only two non-native Americans on the island, Charles and Etta Jones, and about 45 Aleuts.

According to one account of the invasion, when the Japanese arrived, they came into the Joneses’ home and poked 62-year-old Etta with a bayonet, asking in English, “How many are here?”

“Two,” Etta replied. “How many have you?”

“Two thousand” was the answer.

By 1943, the island population had swelled to over 2,300, all of whom were Japanese soldiers settling in to defend the island, and on May 11, 1943, the Battle of Attu began.

The barren island was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific campaign.  American forces landed uncontested while the Japanese dug in at higher ground, and when the attack came, it was brutal: there were 549 U.S. deaths, and 2,351 Japanese deaths. Perhaps more … [ Read all ]