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Welcome to music of the second world war era—Page 4



At the  Front

Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini

It was a time when fierce enemies fought face-to-face, locked in mortal combat—the United States, England, Russian, Germany, Japan, China, and their respective allies. At the top of government, one side fought for fascism and world domination while the other side fought for democracy, freedom, and principle. But on the ground, what occupied the minds and hearts of the troops was the day-to-day struggle to survive and the longing to return home. Alone at night with their private thoughts, soldiers on both sides were soldiers regardless of nationality or loyalty; they shared the same longings for home, the same desire to escape the daily dose of bloodshed, suffering, and insane orders—and, of course, the same loneliness.

At the Second Front in Europe, newsman Ernie Pyle wrote inspiring and sorrowful columns about GIs, bravery, and death, about foot soldiers slogging in mud. His stories, eye-opening, frightening, and appreciative tales about war, misery, and sacrifice, were published for and about the troops in the armed forces newspaper and for the public in newspapers back home. Bill Mauldin, a sergeant on the ground, drew grim and bitter cartoons featuring an unwashed, unshaven doughboy in the lines. Pyle and Mauldin knew and admired each other, and rightly so; they had a lot in common. They showed everybody what a rotten war was really like.

Kilroy's face was everywhere in the battle zone, chalked on walls, buildings, and fences, with his tuber nose and bulging eyes hanging out, forever reminding GIs that "Kilroy was here." (Somehow, Kilroy always managed to arrive "here" before anyone else.)

In contrast, Jody was not "here;" he was "there." And he had been "there" whenever a GI left home to join the Army, as commemorated in the march chant, "Jody was there when you left—you're right!."

Cartoons (comic strips, newspaper comics) went to war, too. The musical instrument called the bazooka, played in the Lil' Abner comic, which looked something like a rocket launcher, became a real rocket launcher. In the cartoon Popeye, Eugene the Jeep, Olive Oil's dog, became the Jeep the GIs drove (the official designation, GP, for General Purpose Vehicle, was too tame). And the adventures of Sad Sack, a Pfc. with his own comic strip, showed GIs and the folks at home what it was like to be a private first class.

The era of the battleship all but ended when the English lost the Prince of Wales to air power in an Asian sea early in the first year of war and the center of naval power shifted permanently to the aircraft carrier. U.S. and Philippine forces held out heroically against vastly superior forces at Corregidor until the 1942 Death March, so long into the war that by then the U.S. Navy and the Japanese had fought the Battle of Midway at which the Japanese lost four aircraft carriers and over 350 planes. Midway proved to be the decisive naval battle of the war. Despite incessant kamikaze attacks, with naval supremacy in hand the U.S. began hopping islands on the way to Japan.

Harry Truman as he looked in 1945 when the war ended.

Courageous British airmen had weakened Herman Goering's Luftwaffe with their Spitfires in the skies over England during the Battle of Britain in the Fall of 1940, a time known as the Blitz. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," pronounced a grateful Churchill in the House of Commons. But the German Luftwaffe remained a formidable enemy up to the end. Their battle-hardened pilots flew some of the most respected planes of the war, such as the formidable Focke-Wolf 190 Butcher Bird, of which 20,000 were produced, the ME-262 Swallow, the first and only operational jet plane of the war, and the ingenious and unique ME-163 Viper, the only rocket plane ever to fly in combat.

Pitted against these outstanding weapons and pilots over Germany were lumbering Allied heavy bombers such as the American B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 Liberator, and the British Lancaster. Losses were heavy. The Americans bombed in daylight and the British and Canadians at night. Terrible raids such as the firebombing of Dresden took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians in a single night, paying back a score for the German firebombing of Rotterdam, Coventry, and similar events earlier in the war.

Both Coventry and Dresden were noted for their cathedrals, which dated from the middle ages. Both cathedrals burned to the ground. With fire bombings in common, after the war Coventry and Dresden became sister cities. Coventry's cathedral was rebuilt promptly after the war but Dresden's languished in rubble until 1995, when reconstruction began after Germany was reunified. English and American donations helped pay for the reconstruction effort. In 2005, Dresden's cathedral was finally reopened.

There were harrowing accounts of British "pathfinder" Mosquito bombers. Built of wood, these light, sleek, and swift two-engine fighter-bombers were charged with the mission of dropping incendiaries from low level to illuminate the way to the target for following heavy bombers. It was a dangerous mission. On the radio their comrades could hear them being hit by devastating German "88" antiaircraft artillery; they burned to death as they plunged to earth in flames, screaming as had their victims. A series of B-24 raids on Rumania's strategic Ploesti oil fields consistently incurred heavy losses. Over 26 thousand American and countless British airmen lost their lives in these kinds of encounters, as did more than twice as many German airmen.

The aerial attack on Britain continued throughout the war, albeit at a reduced pace. Now the objective was terror. Goering's aircraft were replaced by pilotless vehicles. The V1, a flying bomb, was nicknamed the Buzz Bomb because of the sound it made. The V1s kept gunners and fighter pilots busy shooting them down. When France was retaken in 1944 the range to England increased. Now the weapon of choice was the V2 rocket, which was invulnerable because it flew on ballistic trajectory so fast and so high it could not be shot down like its predecessor. The "V" stood for Vengeance.

Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941, naming it after Frederick Barbarossa, 12th century king of Germany and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Russians found themselves facing Hitler's Best, over three million crack troops composed of German, Rumanian, Polish, and other forces. Ill-prepared for war with a major power such as Germany, the Russians paid the price in blood and starvation until they turned the tide of battle at Stalingrad and Leningrad, when Russian-made supplies began to reach their armies from arsenals out of range of German bombers in the Ural Mountains.

The Second Front opened on D-Day, June 6, 1944 on the beaches of Normandy. After the battle for Paris, German resistance stiffened. As on the Russian Front, bitter winter was a cruel enemy and the advancing Allied armies bogged down. Somehow they slogged on. The final major German counteroffensive in World War II began in the freezing cold of December, 1944. It became known as the Battle of the Bulge because of the bulbous shape of the front line, which thrust deep into Allied territory in North and East Belgium. It was repulsed in January 1945. From then on it was "downhill" to victory in Europe, which became known as V-E Day, in May of 1945.

Despite withering losses, the Russian army had developed into a major force with an expert officer corps, huge manpower, powerful tanks, superb artillery, and a well-equipped and capable tactical air force. theyblasted into Germany from the East, bringing the war to a close by defeating a ragtag German force consisting of old men and boys in hand-to-hand, door-to-door combat on the streets of Berlin. They had taken the brunt of the German onslaught throughout the war and had suffered the bulk of Allied casualties; in their view, they had earned the right to control post-war Eastern Europe, a view which set the stage for the Cold War.

Marines raising the flag over Mt. Suribachi. From the original movie by Joe Rosenthal, who was killed a few hours after capturing this scene.
Cropped version of Rosenthal's photo, said to be the most reproduced war photo in history.

Island hopping finally brought the U.S. within bombing range of Japan. A systematic bombing campaign began aimed at softening up the Japanese home islands prior to an invasion. But B-29 raids launched from islands so far away as Saipan in the Marianas could not be sustained; Iwo Jima and Okinawa had to be captured to make these raids practical. During one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, U.S. Marines paused briefly to raise their flag over Iwo Jima's volcanic Mount Suribachi, signaling that they had reached a critical milestone. These savage battles became two of the costliest and most hard-fought campaigns of the war. Japanese soldiers were ordered to fight to the death. Hand-to-hand combat, flame throwers, hand grenades, and bayonet charges were par for the course. In one B-29 firebomb attack over Tokyo, the Japanese suffered one million civilian casualties. These firebombs had an impact comparable to that of an atomic bomb.

Sadly, President Roosevelt didn't live to see the fruits of his labors; he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in April, 1944, with the war in Europe drawing to a conclusion. A shocked nation mourned him. The public had learned to trust Roosevelt's leadership and there was great anxiety about what might happen next. Harry Truman, Roosevelt's vice president, was a relative unknown; he was untried and unprepared for his new office. Fortunately, Roosevelt's legacy included a wise choice of running mate.

Famous for the sign on his Oval Office desk that read "the buck stops here," Truman made the fateful and courageous decision to drop A-bombs on Japan over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was horrible but it was all over—at last! V-J Day arrived with a humiliating Japanese surrender to general Douglas McArthur on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Truman had seen the war to its successful end.

Conservative estimates put the overall death toll for all those touched by the war at 30-50 million; perhaps the real number was as high as 75 million! Add to that the number of wounded and maimed and the vast disruption, dislocation, and emotional trauma. WWI had killed millions, but never in history had there been anything for devastation like WWII.

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