Archive for the ‘Post-war history (1945-)’ Category

I can’t believe it’s already October!  This year has rocketed by.  The fall colors, which we suspected would be pretty dismal due to our super-dry summer, have exploded in an array of colors I never would have imagined.  The reds and yellows and oranges are spectacular, offset by skies as blue as azure and temperatures that have been perfect.  We still aren’t getting any precipitation, but this weather has been awesome.

So it’s a bit of a shame that I’m still laid up.  The herniated disk (disc?) continues to frustrate me some, but at this time tomorrow morning (~7:30am), I’ll be heading into surgery.  The surgeon predicts a “LensCrafters” performance (success…in about an hour).  It’s my first time under the knife (not counting wisdom teeth), so I’m a bit nervous, but if they can get things squared away, that would be great.

October 1, 1947.

It was on this day that test pilot George Welch took to the skies in a revolutionary new aircraft.  Well, it was revolutionary for the United States.  The XP-86 was North American Aviation’s first serious jet fighter, and it was the first American jet to be produced with swept wings.  But we got a little help on this one.

North American’s P-51 Mustang was, quite probably, the pinnacle of piston-engine aircraft.  Range, speed, climb, maneuverability, the Mustang had it all.  As the Second World War wound down, it dominated the skies, regardless of theater.  But by 1944, even it’s most ardent fans knew the proverbial writing was on the wall.  Jet power was the wave of the future, as it promised far better performance.  And what’s more, Germany’s Luftwaffe was already putting jet power to use.  The Me-262 and the even faster (though much less practical and less safe) Me-163 entered production before the end of the War, putting the world’s air forces on notice as to what was possible.

So it’s somewhat understandable that the Allied race to Berlin (Russia from the east, the U.S. and Britain from the west) was about more than securing territory and ending the fighting.  Each side, while warring against Germany, was in a battle to capture these German scientists before the other in order to gain a competitive advantage in what was shaping up to be a post-war “falling out of the Allies.”

Back to our story.

North American’s first attempts at jet aircraft involved basically hooking jets up to Mustang wings and airframes.  But even with piston engines, the P-51 had reached the limits of its potential.  The straight wings simply created too much resistance as it was.  There was no way jets could be used.  But the German scientists had figured out several years prior that swept wings allowed for higher performance by greatly reducing drag, and any loss of low-speed stability could be countered by the simple addition of leading-edge slats.

The engineers took these ideas, headed back to the drawing boards, and revamped their design.  The aircraft that took to the skies on this day was the beginning of yet another remarkable product from North American.  Though initially under-powered, the XP-86 would evolve into one of the finest fighters of its generation.  It flew with great distinction in the Korean War as well as dozens of conflicts around the world in the service of other air forces.  There were numerous variants produced, both here and in other countries under license, and they served for years, with the last Sabres being retired from the Bolivian air force in 1994.

The United States Air Force dropped the “P” (for “Pursuit”) designation, replacing it with “F” (for “Fighter”).  So our XP-86 became, in production, the North American F-86 Sabre, and more Sabres were produced (upwards of 10,000) than any other jet-powered U.S. fighter.

And one other thing…

There are unsubstantiated claims that Welch’s first flight also included the first trip beyond the sound barrier…achieved in a shallow dive.

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Well, the trip to the doctor for my back malady seems to have paid big dividends.  By noon yesterday, I was feeling much, much better.  I could get out of a chair, walk around, sit down, drink a soda, eat pizza, and watch the Packers find their way to the Super Bowl.  Some of you football fans may remember last year’s meeting between the Packers and Steelers, when the two teams racked up nearly 1,000 yards of combined offense.  It was one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever watched, despite a Steelers win.  I hope for a repeat, except with the Packers carrying the day.

There’s a song that goes something like, “This is the song that never ends…“.  I don’t know any of the rest of the words and, who knows, maybe it’s not even a real song, but it came to mind this evening, and somehow seems appropriate for the subject…sort of.

For Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, the Second World War didn’t end before Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945.  The same cannot be said for most of brothers-in-arms, who either gave up the fight or gave up their lives in the fight.  For Yokoi, the fight had come to him on Guam in 1944 as a member of the 38th Regiment.  He managed to remain alive throughout the battle and ended up hiding in a cave with a few fellow infantry as the Pacific War passed him by and headed to the next island.

And for Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, the Second World War didn’t end after Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945, either.  Yokoi was still in hiding (more than a year later), waiting for the Japanese to return and give him his next orders.  But of course, those didn’t come.

For thirty years, they didn’t come, even though Yokoi waited.

Over the years, the ten men became eight, then five, then just three.  Eventually (at some point in the mid-1960s), the final three separated, remaining hidden but in contact with each other.  And pretty soon, there was just Shoichi, as the other two men died.  He hunted at night, and made his own tools and clothes.  And while the pay wasn’t very good, he stayed alive, ready to fight again should duty call.

On January 24, 1972, Shoichi Yokoi’s war finally came to an end, when he was captured by fishermen checking their traps.  He was one of the very last (if not the last) Japanese soldiers captured.  As we have seen many times in our discussions, for a Japanese soldier to be taken alive was a shameful thing.  But Yokoi returned to Japan as something of a hero.

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When the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay, General Joe Stilwell stood on the deck of the USS Missouri as the ranking army officer.  We’ve talked about “Vinegar” Joe on several occasions, recounting some of his exploits throughout the Second World War.  Having spent most of his time directing (and often leading) men through the jungles of Burma, he had finished his war experience in the Pacific, commanding the final days of battle on Okinawa.

But as pen was dragged on paper, it was time to go home.

Stilwell was assigned a desk job in Washington on the War Equipment Board, which was tasked with trying to figure out what to do with gobs of Lend-Lease equipment that was scattered all over the planet.  But it wasn’t the type of work for a man of action, and by the January of the following year (1946), he’d been reassigned to the Western Defense Command in San Francisco.

Joe Stilwell wasn’t aging very well, and when he returned home from the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in July, Winifred (his wife) couldn’t help but notice his frail appearance.  He was all skin and bones, and he struggled mightily with extreme exhaustion, dizziness, and the chills.  A visit to the doctor revealed, in Joe’s words, “…something suspicious in my liver.”

On September 28th, Joe was admitted to the hospital.  As he closes out The Burma Road, Donovan Webster writes, “A week later, on October 3, he underwent exploratory abdominal surgery, which uncovered advanced, metastatic cancer in his stomach, liver, and trunk.  He had been fighting his condition for years.  He was in no pain, which confounded the doctors, but the prognosis was grim.  The time had come for Vinegar Joe Stilwell – the ultimate survivor – to get his affairs in order.”

Stilwell had been decorated with nearly every major medal that could be given an officer, but one that he had really wanted was the Combat Infantryman Badge, a pin signifying an infantry soldier’s good work under fire.  For a General, it was a strange request…for Stilwell (ever the foot soldier), it was perfectly understandable.  The request was granted immediately.

Donovan concludes his book.  “On October 11, 1946, in a bedside ceremony, a sleeping Joseph W. Stilwell was awarded his Combat Infantryman Badge.  The following day, October 12, 1946, Stilwell stirred in his own bed, woke briefly, asked his nurse, ‘Say, isn’t it Saturday?’  Then he rolled back onto his side and drifted off to sleep for the last time, his newest medal still on a bedside table.  A little after noon that day, Joseph W. Stilwell was declared dead.”

And it was a Saturday…

Recommended Reading: The Burma Road

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On November 2, 1947, the largest flying boat ever constructed lifted off on its maiden flight near Long Beach, California.  Officially called the H-4 Hercules, it was built by billionaire aircraft designer (and noted eccentric) Howard Hughes, and it was immense.  The contract for three prototypes, which was awarded to Hughes in 1942 with the help of famous shipbuilder Henry Kaiser, came during wartime, when aircraft metals were scarce and mostly spoken for.  The size of the plane dictated that more abundant materials be used, so it was made almost entirely of birch wood.

The time required to design and build the prototype (partially due to Hughes’ fanatical attention to detail) meant that it was finished too late to serve in the Second World War, but it was still a very impressive aircraft.  It’s 320-foot wingspan was (and still is and probably will be in the future) the largest ever.  It’s also one of the tallest, with it’s rear stabilizer reaching nearly 80 feet skyward.

It was powered by eight 3000-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines, the same engines powering the brand-new Convair B-36 Peacemaker.  Those engines (with a bit of jet assistance) would keep B-36’s aloft for more than a decade.

But for the H-4, just 30 seconds over the water would suffice, because that’s all the longer the flight lasted…and Howard Hughes’ labor of love would never fly again.  The public, in an attempt to ridicule this “one-flight-wonder”, called the plane the “Spruce Goose”.  Hughes loathed the name, and not just because the public got the type of wood wrong.  But it was the name that stuck.

Recommended Activity:  Visit the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum – The Spr…the H-4 Hercules is there, along with a bunch of other cool stuff.

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Here I am, trapped behind these bars.  If there was any way to escape, I’d do it.  Many of my subordinates did get away, and are probably halfway to Argentina by now.  Hitler was right…those stupid Generals cost us the war and then a bunch of them got away.

My Luftwaffe did everything possible, but Speer’s directives made it impossible for me to put together the air power we needed!  Speer, Speer, SPEER!!!  Always the humble one, so sorry, SO contrite!!  The apple of the court’s eye…he’ll probably be sentenced to live in Carinhall…figures…

I wonder how dear Emmy is doing?

I wonder what’s happened with Carinhall?  Is it still standing?  Ah, those were the good times!  The music, the artwork, the statues, the fancy rugs, those fancy parties…I miss it!  All those Jews that made Carinhall possible…and the place in Berchtesgaden.  I wondered what happened to all of those Jews…I probably know, but then again, I don’t…

Hehehe…I convinced that jury that I wasn’t anti-semitic…well, I almost did.  That letter to Heydrich just before Wannsee was the dagger in my defense.  How was that not destroyed?!?

Why didn’t Bormann just leave me alone?!?  I wasn’t trying to take over.  I thought Hitler was incapacitated, and I was the next in command.  I had the letter from Hitler from way back…’41, maybe ’42.  It was in the safe!  Didn’t we all just want the fighting to end?

Couldn’t we have worked together for just once?!?  Negotiate the peace, then make for the Alps?  If Bormann hadn’t gotten all power-hungry and had me arrested…ME!!!…we probably would all be safely out of harm’s way.  I made Martin Bormann!!  He was a nobody…and he wasn’t captured, so he’s probably living it up south of the equator as well.

Well, they’re going to hang me tomorrow.  I should be shot…actually, they should be shot and I should living it up with Emmy and the little darling someplace not in Europe.  Hehehe…at least I’ll cheat the hangman with my bit of insurance.  Bit…more like a “bite” of insurance.

Oop…wave at the guard and give a half smile.  Yeah buddy, you think I’m gonna swing tomorrow.  You won’t be back for at least 10 minutes.

Well, I guess this worked for Hitler…and Frau Goebbels said she set it aside for the kids.  Just bite and wait, eh?  I suppose I’d rather the last sound I hear be glass breaking than my neck.  Goodbye world, goodbye Emmy, goodbye guard…a little wave even though you can’t see me…goodbye October 15, 1946…

I wonder who’ll get fired when they find me…ok, little pill, one chomp and I’ll be gone…forever…to nothing…here goes…yeow, glass hurts no matter how sma…



huh…I didn’t think I’d still be awake…this is weird.  Least it’s warm.  I wonder wher…what’s th…uh oh…

Recommended Reading:  Angels of Death: Goering’s Luftwaffe

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Years ago, dad and I went over to Omaha, NE and visited the SAC Museum at Offutt Air Force Base.  They had a building full of cool stuff, but what I remember most was the outside displays.  There were a host of aircraft and, though one couldn’t climb inside the cockpit, one could stand next to them, stand in the bomb-bays (of the bombers), and (if one wanted to get in big trouble) climb on the wings.  I did the first two…not the third.

I had seen and knew something about nearly all the planes on display, but seeing them “in-person” for the first time was a whole different experience.  One never gets the proper perspective of a plane’s size until a bunch of different ones are put together.

Which brings us to today’s topic:  the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, and it’s a gigantic plane.  It’s nearly 3 feet longer than a B-52, and it’s wingspan is 230 feet (remember a football field with no end-zones is 300 feet), 45 feet longer than a ’52.  One cannot fully grasp the proportions unless it’s seen in person.  It’s the largest non-cargo plane ever used by the U.S. military, and one of the largest ever.

The most recognizable feature of the B-36 is the engines.  The props are mounted in a push position (behind the wings), a design that reduced turbulence over the wings.  The prototype (shown above) and all initial models were powered by 6 radial engines with 3,000 horsepower each.  But takeoffs still required too much runway, so later models got bigger engines, and two turbojets were fitted to the outer wingtips on all Peacemakers.

The B-36’s first flew on August 8, 1946 and entered service two years later.  But advancements in jet propulsion meant its life on the front line would be short.  By 1959, all Peacemakers were “resting in peace”, having been retired from active service and replaced by Boeing’s legendary B-52.

But I still marvel at the behemoth that is the B-36, and there are still a handful of them in existence that you can see and touch.  The SAC Museum has moved from Offutt AFB since I visited (just a few miles away to Ashland), and the Peacemaker moved with it.  If you ever get a chance, go see one.  If I can find the photos of my visit, I’ll scan those of the Peacemaker and post them.

Recommended Activity:  Visit the SAC Museum and see all the aircraft and displays.  You won’t have to look hard to find the B-36.

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I don’t know how big he was when he was born, and reports vary as to his actual measurements when he was fully grown, but there’s no question that André the Giant was a mountain of a man.  Born in France on May 19, 1946, he was discovered as a teenager by wrestling manager Lord Alfred Hayes.  His wrestling career began in Europe in the 1960’s and was a well-established star when he arrived in the United States from Japan in the early 1970’s.

The WWF made him a household name in the States, though as a kid, I only heard rumors about him…I watched the old Georgia Championship Wrestling (featuring Gordon Solie), and the “Eighth Wonder of the World” didn’t wrestle there.  I did get to see him wrestle on TV a few times, mostly in the 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 matches where these little child-like guys wrapped themselves around André’s legs while he walked around the ring.  I hear he had great matches with Hulk Hogan, but I never saw them.

So you’re probably wondering…why write about a guy you never really paid any attention to?  I can answer that in three simple words…”The Princess Bride“.  I thought that movie was hilarious, and André the Giant played the fairly prominent (in more ways than one) poet Fezzik.  He carries the captured Princess Buttercup (and his 2 cohorts) up the Cliffs of Insanity, he engages in an honorable wrestling match with our hero (which he surprisingly loses to the sleeper hold), and he helps rescue the Princess from Prince Humperdinck.

André’s large size was due to acromegaly, a condition in which the pituitary gland secretes excessive amounts of growth hormone.  Discovered while he was wrestling in Japan, the Giant refused treatment for his condition.  It would later cost him his life, as it led to congestive heart failure in January of 1993.

There have been men who were larger.  There have been men who were stronger.  And there have been men who were taller.  But I don’t think a one of them could come up with a line that rhymed with “No more rhymes, now, I mean it!!” any quicker than André the Giant.

Happy Birthday, André the Giant!!

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