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Here's a quick look at three recent books covering topics off the beaten path.
Neufeld, William. Slingshot Warbirds: World War II U.S. Navy Scout-Observation Airmen. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2003
Preface; photos; List of Sources; Index
Of all the thousands of books about air operations and pilots in World War II, we're not aware of any others focusing exclusively on the men who flew scout - observation - rescue missions in planes based on US Navy cruisers and battleships. William Neufeld gives a perfunctory outline of American operations around the world from Guadalcanal ("Everything went well, especially the skillful landings") to the Mediterranean ("Sicily is truly ancient") to Okinawa ("The Japanese were warned by their leaders that they must be ready to defend their Nippon"). Neufeld's amateurish text also suffers from passing along some far-fetched, uncorroborated reports:
On 8-9 June in the "Utah"
area [of Normandy]...the Nevada was called to work a
deep support mission. It was delightful to fire upon clusters of up to 90 tanks and
20 vehicles in a wooded area near Motebourg [Montebourg?]. With her plane spot overhead, and
70 rounds of 14-inch at 23,500 yards, the air spotter reported "that all tanks and
trucks were destroyed or damagednone got away."
Fortunately, the strength of the stories told by individual airmen compensates for the author's unpolished narrative.
The opening chapters explain the evolution of ship-based, catapult-launched scout planes and describe some of the technical issues involved, such as invention of the "sled" for improved recovery of aircraft. The same chapters also cover pilot training and early operations, such as escorting British convoys prior to Pearl Harbor. One interesting incident involves USN escort duty of British troopships, ultimately bound for the Western Desert, from Newfoundland to Capetown.
After Pearl Harbor, these float-planes took part in almost every naval and amphibious operation conducted by the US Navy. The twenty-seven airmen interviewed by Neufeld contribute interestingand usually dramaticstories about their missions around the globe. Toward the end of the war, these missions more and more often meant rescuing other downed aviators.
The two aircraft arrived at their destination at about 1615. Oxendine was
piloting his plane and carrying ARM 2/c Miller and had VHF communications
with the accompanying CAP. Appleton was flying with an empty rear seat. Fred's
VHF radio was also removed to keep the plane at its lightest load so that picking up any downed flyer would be a minimum effort. Appleton, therefore, had
no communications with any of the other aircraft.
"We arrived at our given destination when I saw something at about one
o'clock. I motioned to Oxendine and then I peeled off to begin to 'zoom' the
object. During that low swoop, I noticed that ... the wind was slight and the sea
was a bit 'swelly' but not rough."
The bad part was that the CAP escort was trying to tell Appleton not to go
down yet. They would go down first and shoot up any guns or suspicious items.
But without a radio, Appleton was unaware of their intentions.
At about 2,000 yards off the eastern side of the island Appleton was delighted
to spot a life raft with two waving airmen. He went down to make a normal
approach heading for the island.
"As I was about to land I heard a loud explosion just above me and I suddenly realized I was being fired upon by their favorite 3-inch antipersonnel ammunition. From then on, during my approach, rescue and takeoff, I could hear the
whooshing explosions and was surrounded by some nasty splashes. But I had to
stop thinking of that and put my mind to the mission profile: getting those guys
Once down on the water with his plane at a taxi, Appleton climbed down
on the main float and tried grabbing the men on his first pass, but he just missed
There was not enough wind to slow the plane down sufficiently and Fred
didn't want to cut the engine entirely because he would have to use another cartridge to start the engine up, and sometimes they just didn't start up right away.
"And I can say it nowthat was no place to get stuck in."
Appleton went around again to make another pass, this time with the engine
just barely turning over while the 3-inch stuff was still exploding. With the two
men clinging to the float, Fred was able to taxi the plane away from the concentrations of splashes. Finally getting the two men aboard, he assisted them onto
the wing and into the rear cockpit. Then he throttled up for a takeoff. Before
taking off the TBF pilot, Lt. (j.g.) Russell, told Fred that his gunner was also
down in a life raft somewhere in the vicinity.
I told him I would try to make contact with Tom Oxendine and give
him that information. I then proceeded to take off down wind. Because
of the tailwind and the extra weight of a 220 lb. pilot and a 180 lb. photographer, we had plenty of trouble just getting off the water. While
making "S" turns to avoid enemy fire and fearing we would never get
off, I held the throttle past the "STOP" mark longer than recommended
while throwing myself side to side and rocking the main float. Finally,
we just barely eased off the surface, fought for just some lift, and did it
all and without burning up the engine.
After joining up with Oxendine, Appleton motioned to "Ox" that there was
another man in the water, and the two pilots proceeded to search the seas below.
In just a few minutes, a small speck was spotted: The third happily waving airman was in a raft about 500 yards from where Fred had picked up the others of
Having also seen the raft, Oxendine landed in order to rescue. In seconds
the shore batteries opened up on his plane. But with the help of his radioman,
"Ox" wasn't on the water too long. The two Kingfishers were finally able to join
up with the CAP and head back to the Mobile where they were recovered at 1715.
Besides the entertaining stories, the book also features a number of excellent photographs. Not Top Ten material, but worth a look nonetheless.
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Hill, Richard F. Hitler Attacks Pearl Harbor: Why the United States Declared War on Germany. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002
Acknowledgments; Selected Bibliography; Index
Appendix: Public Opinion Polls
Transforming the subtitle of Richard F. Hill's book into a question gives us "Why did the United States declare war on Germany?" The answer to that question has always been, "Because Germany declared war on the United States." However, Hill postulates another answer entirely, and goes so far as to assert that the United States was ready to declare war on Germany regardless of Hitler's declaration. Why? Because, according to all the evidence Hill unearths, the American public and many of the nation's most sober-minded political leaders were convinced that Germany was behind Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor (hence the catchy title of the book), Germany played an important role in producing and preparing Japanese ships and aircraft, and Luftwaffe pilots took part in the Day of Infamy. Mind you, Hill himself isn't making those outrageous claims, he's just reporting on what millions of Americans believed in December 1941. In that environment, he concludes, the Roosevelt administration was fully prepared to seize the opportunity to take the nation to war against Germany.
Without a doubt Hill has a fascinating premise and he brings up some interesting and unusual material to bolster his arguments and conclusions. For example, according to him, US newspapers were reporting on 8 December that FDR was expected to ask for a declaration of war against Japan and "probably" Germany and Italy as well. Reputable newspapers demonstrated how the Luftwaffe planned to bomb the United States from secret bases, from aircraft carriers, or via one-way suicide missions. Similarly, newspapers including the New York Times carried stories immediately after Pearl Harbor of reports that the German battleship Tirpitz had participated in the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya, and "at least one new German aircraft carrier" took part in the raid on Hawaii. The story of German planes and pilots at Pearl Harbor was especially prevalent:
The next day, December 10, the New York World-Telegram summarized
this unconfirmed report by saying that "rumors were afloat that some Germans had been shot down in Japanese planes." It was not just German pilots
who may have been implicated in the Pacific, but German aircraft too, as was
implied by the headline of this report, "Japanese air force using Nazi equipment." This combination of German pilots and planes was highlighted on
December 11 and December 12 in both the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the
Sun Antonio Express. These newspapers, notes historian Gordon Prange,
exemplified the "newshawks [who] thought that Hitler might even have contributed planes and pilots to the attack" on Pearl Harbor.
By December 15 the "evidence" was becoming even more compelling.
Newspapers from the New York Times to the Chicago Tribune carried a story
whose lead was "Stukas at Hawaii, eyewitness says. U.S. doctor, in a letter to
sister, says Nazi pilots were shot down in original attack. . . . German Stuka
bombers and Nazi pilots were shot down together with Japanese, by the
defenders of Oahu in last Sunday's sudden attack on that Hawaiian Island,
according to an eyewitness account of the raid by Dr. Bernard Witlin, United
States Health Services bacteriologist, stationed in Honolulu, in a letter to his
sister. Mrs. Samuel Weisfeld" of Philadelphia.
The ever evolving degree of detail was hardly needed to convince most
Americans of what had been an implicit assumption ever since the attack on
Pearl Harbor. In a December 9 speech in Congress, Representative James Van
Zandt (R-Pa.) said. "thank God for Admiral Kimmel, General Short, and their
courageous men who are in the front-line trench at this moment undergoing
the devastating fire of the Japanese and other Axis partners" at Hawaii. By
December 9, Americans were becoming relatively secure in this belief due to
the abundant rumors and reports that had been circulating ever since December 7. This atmosphere had also pervaded the White House during President
Roosevelt's December 7 meeting with congressional leaders, when the president noted that "there is a rumor that two of the planes . . . were seen with
swastikas on them. Now whether that is true or not, I don't know."
Before the press began reporting that it was the German Luftwaffe that
had probably bombed Pearl Harbor, this story had flourished within the U.S.
military and up the chain of command to the commander in chief. President
Roosevelt. According to historian Thurston Clarke, "the German-pilot rumor
began with sailors claiming to see swastikas painted on planes flown by blond
pilots. Civilians on the heights above Pearl Harbor also identified 'German'
planes." These "eyewitnesses" were all interviewed by U.S. Army Intelligence and their testimony was preserved in the "Hawaiian War Records
Depository." Beginning December 7, eyewitnesses swore that they saw "German Stukas," and indeed that "the great majority of the planes observed were
German." One of these Hawaiian eyewitnesses concluded "that the attack was
led by German pilots."
In addition to the reports from U.S. Army Intelligence in Hawaii, President Roosevelt would be privy to yet another, seemingly equally credible,
source of information on this issue. This source was Soviet leader Joseph
Stalin, who told British foreign minister Anthony Eden on December 16 that
Soviet military intelligence believed not only that Germany had given Japan
1,500 aircraft, but also that German pilots were flying for the Japanese air
force. Stalin added that, so great was the proportion of German aircraft and
pilots with the Japanese air force, it caused him to say, "I have come to the
conclusion that it is not really a Japanese war."
This is an intriguing book full of pertinent reminders about the state of the nation in the first few days after Pearl Harbor and the confusion and panic prevalent as most Americans waited for the German-led onslaught to begin. Unfortunately, Ross confines his work to a very narrow topiche has little to say, for example, about why Hitler declared war on the USand seems to play a single note repetitiously throughout the entire book. For example, although he claims that Germany essentially retracted Hitler's "declaration of war" speech the day after it was delivered, Ross does little to clarify those events. The author's approach also proves relentlessly one-sided. Still, every reader will discover thought-provoking facts and perspectives in Hitler Attacks Pearl Harbor.
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Jespersen, Knud J.V. No Small Achievement: Special Operations Executive and the Danish Resistance, 1940-1945. Odense, Denmark: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2002. Distributed in the US by International Specialized Book Services
Preface; photos; maps; References and Notes; Sources and Literature; Abbreviations; Illustrations Acknowledgements; Index; Chronology
Some World War II topics seem at first glance too insignificant in the greater scheme of things to warrant a book-length exposition. We might have thought as much about British Special Operations Executive actions in occupied Denmark until Knud Jespersen's tome of almost 600 pages landed here.
Certainly some serious books already exist about SOE-related aspects of anti-German resistance in Denmark. In particular Jorgen Haestrup authored a three-volume history of Danish resistance, published in English in the mid-1970s. Jespersen points out that Haestrup's work nowadays is considered rather old school, and he also politely disparages the work on Denmark of David Stafford (Britain and European Resistance) and Charles Cruickshank (SOE in Scandinavia). Since those books appeared, the SOE archives relating to Denmark have been opened by the British government, and information from those files forms the heart of this book.
Jespersen covers the early years of the Danish occupation, when resistance was minimal and the few anti-Nazi acts appeared "incompetent and amateurish," the growing involvement of SOE and the expansion of intelligence and sabotage networks in Denmark, evolving priorities and assorted internal disputes, and of course the famous RAF raids on Gestapo headquarters at Aarhus in 1944 (highly successful) and Copenhagen in 1945 (less so). Jespersen also utilizes the new archival material to look at questions such the extent to which the Danish resistance was controlled by the British as opposed to simply taking advantage of British assistance. In fact, internal SOE evaluations claim that not only did the British completely control the Danish resistance, but without SOE there would have been no resistance at all, and Denmark would have ended up a happy vassal state of the Germans. Such sentiments, of course, exist completely out of line with most Danish scholarship and popular perception of Denmark's role in its own struggle.
In London it was clear from the very
start that there would be no invasion in Denmark and, with that in mind, the
military value of the Danish resistance was unimportant. What was important
was the part they could play in operation FORTITUDE and in ensuring the
smooth incorporation of Denmark into the British sphere of interest after the
war. Therefore, the British wanted the greatest possible control over a resistance army that, so far as possible, was drawn from all political groups in the
Those objectives were Hollingworth's hidden agenda in Stockholm, and it
was probably the reason why he accepted the inclusion of the Danish Brigade
without protest, despite his disapproval of the concept. He had, after all, supported the idea of Danish officers and N.C.O.'s joining the CHAIR groups. The
pressing needs of operation FORTITUDE was the reason for his emphasis on
the urgency of the situation, and his insistence on de-centralisation was motivated by long-term British politics. It would be wrong to suggest that Hollingworth was engaged in some pretence at the Stockholm meetings, but he
certainly had an agenda that was quite different and unknown to the Danes.
The Danes, obviously, saw things from a different point of view. For
months, Muus and others had been trumpeting that an invasion of Denmark
was just round the corner and that it was important to build up the strongest
possible resistance army that would be ready for action on that day. It was also
important that the Danish contribution in the final conflict should be so large
that it would erase the stigma attached to the accommodation that Denmark
made with the occupying power in the early years of the war, and that national self-respect should be restored. The Freedom Council regarded itself as the
standard-bearer in that endeavour, and it was those straightforward ideas that
guided Frode Jakobsen in Stockholm. His objective was to build up a
resistance army that could accomplish a national plan, and to secure the
SOE's support in that endeavour. He sought to protect what he, as a resistance
leader, regarded as Danish interests; Hollingworth was concerned about
British interests but, obviously, he kept those to himself.
The outcome was a continuation of uncertainty about control and the
chain of command. The SOE insisted on de-centralisation and control from
London, whereas the Freedom Council ended up by demanding that its position as the co-ordinating body for the resistance be respected.
An amazingly detailed investigation of the subject, fair and even-handed, about which nothing negative can be said, except that it is a book which will likely prove overwhelming to all but those intimately interested in this topic.
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All of these books are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers or their distributors.
Thanks to the publishers and/or distributors for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 16 February 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone