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Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Steve Cole ponders a few obscure pieces of military  history that came to his attention.

1. The number of French civilians killed by US air strikes and artillery bombardments during the Normandy landings and subsequent two months of heavy combat was almost exactly equal to the number of US soldiers killed in France during the same period of time.

2. While the Japanese battleships Yamato and Mushasi had the biggest guns (18 inches) the US did not in fact know that the guns were that big until after the war when they captured the blueprints, spare barrels, and ammunition stockpile. The US Navy assumed that the ships had 16-inch guns and were about the size of the Iowa-class. (They were actually at least 20% bigger.)

3. Britain nearly collapsed during the early days of the Battle of the Atlantic when the handful of German U-boats nearly strangled the island from supplies. The thing that would have helped most and fastest was to divert a hundred or two bombers from scattering bombs over the German countryside to daylight patrols over the ocean to bomb U-boats and (at least) force them to submerge where they could not find convoys to attack. However, Churchill flatly refused to divert a single bomber from pounding Germany.

4. A recent conference at the Marshall Center included a history professor proclaiming that the Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories (that FDR baited the Japanese into attacking) would not die but did not have a leg to stand on. While I agree that the theory cannot be true I think it is unprofessional for a history professor to dismiss the case without proving it to be false. The theory does have a leg to stand on (the battleships had only peacetime crews and would have to return to California for more crewmen before they could fight, FDR wanted to get the US into the war) and deserves to be thoughtfully refuted. To simply say that it isn't worth discussing is how dishonest historians get rid of inconvenient theories. FDR wanted the US to be at war with Germany, not Japan. Nobody knew that the aircraft carriers would dominate naval war from 1942 onward so throwing away the battleships was never a good idea.