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The Ghost Mountain Boys_Book Review

There is a roadside monument in my area dedicated to the 32nd US Infantry Division. The monument lists all the campaigns the 32nd fought in WW1 and WW2. The Battle for New Guinea  (Buna) is among the honors.


Monument to the 32nd Infantry Division in my area.

The 32nd ID was a National Guard outfit recruited in Wisconsin and Michigan. Along with 17 other National Guard Divisions the 32nd was activated for federal service in the summer of 1940 as the war in Europe raged on.

Once the US entered the war after Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 it was decided that the US and Great Britain would pursue a “Hitler first” policy which meant the majority of US assets would be routed to Britain for an early cross channel invasion of France.

Japanese ambitions in the South Pacific interfered with the policy and the US had to divert Marine and Army units to the Pacific.

Since two excellent Australian Divisions were fighting in North Africa in 1942 it became necessary for the US to send an army division to help protect Australia from a possible Japanese invasion. The 32nd was selected for the mission and it fell under General Douglas MacArthur’s command who had set up his HQ in Australia after the fall of the Philippines to the Japanese early in 1942.

The Island of New Guinea was under Australian jurisdiction and had a small Australian garrison drawn from militia units. The Japanese eyed New Guinea as a place to invade in order to try and cut off Australia from outside help.  Some in the IJA thought it might be possible to actually invade Australia once New Guinea was captured.

Once the Japanese invaded New Guinea it began one of the most brutal campaigns of World War Two. The 32nd ID was sent to New Guinea with the objective of retaking the island along with the Australians who were already engaged there with the Japanese.

Here is an entry from the Ghost Mountain Boys by James Campbell that describes what the Americans and Australians were up against:

In 1942, when the 32nd Division arrived in New Guinea, the island was still terra incognito. It’s interior was largely unmapped, its coastline a puzzle of coral reefs, its swamps and grasslands a breeding ground for disease, its climate as pernicious as any ever encountered by an army. In New Guinea, MacArthur neglected warfare’s most important lesson: The island was his enemy, yet he remained only vaguely aware of the hardships his troops would confront there. (page 73, The Ghost Mountain Boys)

The terms Ghost Mountain Boys refers to an infantry battalion of the 32nd ID. Their initial mission would be to hike over the 10,000 foot Owen Stanley Mountains to protect the Australian right flank in the battle for New Guinea.

The first part of the book documents through letters, diaries and the official records just how difficult that hike was. As the above quote states the island itself was more the enemy than the Japanese.

The 32nd was ill prepared to fight the kind of jungle warfare that would be common in the Pacific in the years to come. More men died or were disabled from a myriad of jungle swamp diseases than would die or be wounded from the Japanese Army.

MacArthur, safely from his HQ in Australia was oblivious to the facts and essentially ordered the 32nd to do the impossible without giving them the necessary support. MacArthur relieved officers who he didn’t think were aggressive enough totally disregarding the obstacles they had to face fighting both nature and the tenacious Japanese who suffered just as much as the allies did from the unforgiving island. It was the men in the ranks who suffered the most from MacArthur’s lack of concern.

Campbell includes excerpts from Japanese letters and diaries that give insight to the fact the Japanese suffered as much as anyone else if not more since their supply situation was even worse than the Americans and Aussies.

The book draws much needed attention to the little known campaign for New Guinea since it began at roughly the same time as the US Marines fought their epic on Guadalcanal. While the American pubic were keenly aware of the Marines fight on Guadalcanal they were largely ignorant of the 32nd’s sacrifice on New Guinea.

My wife’s father was a medic in 1943-44 and served at a rear area hospital in the Australian controlled part of New Guinea. He contracted dengue fever that turned his hair white and affected his nerves for life. He received a disability from the Army but the effects of New Guinea plagued him until his death in 2000. New Guinea was a hell hole even for medics who served in rear area hospitals. Campbell’s book helps us remember the sacrifice of the men who served there.




Great War US Magazine Covers


Literary Digest, July 13th, 1918



Literary Digest July 27th, 1918

I stopped at a local antique store to buy my wife a Christmas present and found two World War One copies of The Literary Digest.

Literary Digest Magazine was first  published in 1890 by Funk and Wagnalls. The final issue was in 1938. The magazine was a general interest magazine that featured the following departments (in 1918):

Topics of the Day

Foreign Comment

Science and Invention

Letters and Art

Religion and Social Service

Fuel Problems in War-Time

Current Poetry


Investments and Finance.

I purchased the two magazines because I wanted the covers that featured US soldiers in the Great War. I soon found that the magazine was interesting and that it provided insights not only to the Great War and how Americans perceived it, but American life in 1918. I will create more blog posts from the magazine in the near future.

The advertisements are interesting because they reflect an early America that has fallen in love with automobile-something that would have been a novelty and curiosity just a few years before.

The cover art of the American soldiers are both heroic and romantic in the sense of romanticizing war and showing our guys as heroes-something that every country did.

The top cover above shows an American officer leading his men into a bombed out house. He holds a 1911 Colt in his left hand and in the right he is about to toss a hand grenade. His men follow behind presumably armed with the 1903 bolt  action Springfield Rifle although many Americans were armed with British Enfields. As far as I can tell there isn’t any explanation of the art in the magazine so I’m guessing people would be familiar enough with the subject matter to understand the picture was of Americans fighting in France. The artist was Vincent Lynch and his signature appears in the lower left.

The lower picture above is interesting because it features US Cavalry apparently charging alongside an early tank (left side of the cover). As far as I know it never happened although the British massed their cavalry behind the tanks and infantry in the hopes the cavalry could be used in a breakthrough.The artist is R. Farrington Ellwell and his signature appears in the lower left.

Although some countries would use cavalry into WW2 (notably Russia) the age of the mounted charge was well over by WW1. Rapid fire artillery, machine guns and repeating bolt action rifles made mounted charges nearly impossible. The cover art in this case reflects the romance of earlier periods when the mounted charge reigned supreme. The tank represents the “steel horse” that replaced the mounted cavalry soldier.

Footnote: The Literary Digest was popular until 1936. The Digest was in the habit of taking straw polls to predict presidential elections and in 1936 predicted an overwhelming win for  Alfred Landon of Kansas (Republican) who was running against FDR (Wiki).

Landon carried only the States of Vermont and Maine. Since the popular saying at the time was “As Maine goes so does the country” (in pre-election polls) the publishers assumed a Landon landslide but what they got was an FDR landslide.

The explanation for the disastrous prediction became The Literary Digest focused its straw poll on too narrow of a demographic-generally people who were doing all right during the Great Depression and not on those experiencing hardships.

Whatever the reason the poll cost The Literary Digest all credibility and two years later it folded into history.

I knew nothing of this but could not help thinking of how badly the mainstream media blew the 2016 predictions. They predicted a Clinton landslide right up to the moment it became apparent Trump would win in dramatic fashion. The reason for the Trump win appears to be the mainstream media didn’t poll sample broadly enough and missed that most of the country had gone red even if many didn’t particularly  like Trump. Will the mainstream media lose credibility like The Literary Digest once did?


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First to Fall: the American Volunteers who Gave their Lives for France

An excellent report on the Americans who fought in the Great War before the US entered the war in 1917 (and what happened to some f them after we did).

History & Lore of the Old World War


One hundred years ago, by the Spring of 1915, a full two years before America’s declaration of war against Germany, hundreds of young American men were already serving in or near the front lines— as infantrymen in the French Foreign Legion, as aviators in the Lafayette Flying Corps or Lafayette Escadrille, or as ambulance drivers with the American Field Service. These young men, many of them Ivy Leaguers from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and other top universities, joined up of their own accord and at their own expense, putting their lives on hold for several years, for the privilege of defending someone else’s country. Their motives were both idealistic and personal, involving a love of French culture and the French generally, a hatred for what they saw as Teutonic militarism and aggression, and a degree of shame and impatience toward their own country, for failing to rise to what they…

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WW2 War Ads_ Veedol Motor Oil

My July 26. 1943 issue of Life Magazine has yielded a harvest of great color advertisements and color illustrations that add to the stories in Life.

I found this ad from Veedol Motor Oil to be interesting given the subject matter.

As you can see it’s titled, “When Lighting Strikes a Messerschmitt.”

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The “Lighting” is a P-38, the US’s WW2 twin tailed fighter aircraft. The P-38 was manufactured by Lockheed and while it was used in both theaters of war it is more famous for its service in the Pacific War. Richard Bong from my area in Wisconsin flew one and had 40 victories against the Japanese. The P-38 was our primary long-range fighter until the P-51 Mustang became operational.


P-38H of the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando Army Air Base, Florida, carrying two 1,000 lb bombs during capability tests in March 1944[1]P-38H of the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando Army Air Base, Florida, carrying two 1,000 lb bombs during capability tests in March 1944[1] Photo-Wikipedia

The Lighting in the art work is shooting down the most common German fighter of WW2-the ME-109 manufactured by Messerschmitt.

The ad is from the Tide Water Oil Company-a refiner of Pennsylvania oil according to the small print. Veedol is around today but appears to be a Canadian company that works outside of the US.

So, what is so interesting about the ad?

I think the answer to that question lies in the line that didn’t scan because it’s toward the bottom of the page. The line reads, “Oil is Ammunition-Use it Wisely.”

WW2 was a mechanized war and oil was the life blood of all the machines used to wage war whether it was ships, tanks, trucks, jeeps or airplanes. Even countries that had an abundance of oil sought to conserve it for the prosecution of the war. The ad reminds people of the civilian rationing of oil and at the same time points to the fact that our fighter aircraft used oil to shoot down enemies planes-hence, oil is ammunition.

One of the more interesting tidbits in the text is the line in the third paragraph that reads, “No Allied pilot will ever lose his battle because an “ersatz” oil failed him.” Ersatz is a German word that means “substitute” usually of an inferior quality.

The Germans suffered from oil shortages in the later part of the war. Part of the reason Hitler invaded Russia was to gain access to the Russian oil fields that were in the Caucasus Mountain regions. That campaign ended with the disaster that was Stalingrad.

Germany relied on its ally Romania for access to oil. The Romanian oil refinery was  around Ploesti, Romania. Ploesti would become a prime target in the allies’ effort to disrupt Germany’s oil resources.

A major raid on Ploesti was called Operation Tidal Wave and was carried out by US B-24 Liberator bombers. The raid was a disaster because the oil fields were defended by at least three fighter groups manned by German, Romanian and even Bulgarian pilots. Heavy anti-aircraft fire added to the damage done by the fighters. Fifty-three B-24s were lost and over 650 US crewmen. It is notable that the B-24s took off from Libya in North Africa and were unescorted by any fighters like the P-38 most likely because Ploesti was still out of range from the P-38.

Although Operation Tidal Wave was a disaster it didn’t stop the Allies from attacking the oil facilities. The July 26th, 1943 issue of Life has a focused feature on the Invasion of Sicily that took place on July 10, 1943. The invasion of Sicily was the start of the Italian Campaign that would knock Italy out of the war and gain for the allies Italian airfields from which to launch further raids on Ploesti-this time from a much closer range  and with fighter escort.

By mid 1944 the oil shortage in the German war machine would become severe as they worked feverishly to produce synthetic oil of which there was never enough. “Ersatz” then  perhaps has two meanings in the ad, one being we won’t have to substitute and two, our enemies will and it will have consequences!

The themes in most war ads are patriotism, sacrifice (everyone is part of the war effort), support for the military and “our boys.” Almost all ads carry a line somewhere that encourages Americans to “Buy War Bonds and Stamps.” American’s responded to the appeal by buying millions of bonds and that is how the war was financed.

War time Life Magazines are snap shots of what us called “The Greatest Generation.” Studying them are clues as to why that is.





Brutal Valor Review

Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana (The Anglo-Zulu War Book 1)Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana by James Mace

I just finished the Kindle Edition and have to say I enjoyed the book immensely. The Zulu War has been an interest of mine since the movies Zulu and Zulu Dawn came out many moons ago. I’ve read The Washing of the Spears by Morris twice and Ian Knight’s work with Ian Castle more than once because I war-game the period. I’m about to delve into Knight’s epic Zulu Rising. Mace gives credit at the end of the book to those who helped him with research including Knight.

I mention all that because it’s clear that Mace has done his homework. Time after time I was reminded of my previous research as Mace’s character’s personalize the happenings and incidents leading up and including the disaster at Isandlwana.

Obviously much of the dialogue is made up but I found quite believable and logical given whatever circumstance Mace was describing.

The book was a fun read but also a sobering read as he pitted Zulu Warrior against British Redcoat and one realizes that although the Zulu’s won at Isandlwana they took horrendous casualties that meant doom for the Zulu nation.

I’ve read a couple of Mace’s earlier works about the Roman soldier and enjoyed those as well. I think Mace continues to get better and better and I look forward to his sequel on Rorke’s Drift.


WW2 Ads_Willard Battery

During WW2 Americans received their war news from short movie clips when they went to the theater, from radio and from print media such as Life Magazine.

Life Magazine not only brought the war home to civilians via news stories but also encouraged public support for the war effort through the advertisers.

The below ad appeared in the November 1, 1943 issue of Life. The advertiser is the Willard Battery Company, a subsidiary of The Electric Storage Battery Company.


The issue featured a pilot and a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter and the reason I purchased it at a rummage sale!

Willard is still in business today, owned by a South African Company.

During WW2 Willard switched production from automobile batteries to war production. In this particular ad Willard advertises the fact their batteries are used in American tanks.

The advertisement features the most common American tank of all-the M4 Sherman of which about 50,000 were built for use in the American Army, Canadian Army, British Army and even the Soviet Army due to Lend-Lease aid.

The ad is typical as it refers to the sacrifices our boys are making in fighting the war. The ad appeals to that sacrifice by encouraging the reader to buy more war stamps and war bonds so that our boys have the equipment they need to keep on fighting.

WW2 was the last of our wars that involved everyone. The nation was mobilized with one goal-to win the war as soon as possible. Since the Korean War the nation as a whole has not been involved. To be sure, if your family had\has a member in the military who are involved so are you, but for many Americans conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are remote and as a result none of the sacrifice so prevalent in WW2 is made upon most of us.



WW2 War Ads_Electric Boat

Recently I came across a cache of WW2 era Life Magazines and purchased three for three dollars each.

The magazines are snapshots filled with historical and cultural tidbits of life in the US during World War Two.

Not surprising are the number of articles related to WW2 and the advertisements that make reference to the war. Most are in black and white but quite a few are in color. Below is an ad from the Electric Boat Company. (Today EB is owned by General Dynamics.)

The Electric Boat Company was located and is located in Groton Connecticut. “EB” as it’s known builds submarines and during WW2 “EB” built quite a few.

img008img009 (1)

It got cut off in my scan but in the lower right hand corner of the top picture there is free offer that reads: Fine 18″ X 13″ enlargement of this painting will be sent on request while supply lasts. Write to our New York address for Lithograph E, enclosing 10c to cover postage and handling.

I’m thinking that anyone who saw the ad and had someone in the Navy’s Submarine Service probably took advantage of this offer.

The artist signed the painting and his name is Gerald Leake. Gerald Leake was an American artist (1885-1975). During WW2 a number of American artists were commissioned to do patriotic\war effort work and Mr. Leake appears to have been employed by the New London Ship and Engine Works in the department of Electric Boat that was devoted to the building of submarines.

The artwork is interesting on a number of levels including the details.

First, the picture shows the sub surfaced engaging a target with the deck gun. This was a common practice when a merchant ship or transport was not escorted by a destroyer and could picked off alone. There was limited space for torpedoes on a sub so they used them sparingly.

Second, there are seven Japanese flags on the side if the conning tower. The four plain flags (with the red circle only) represent merchant type ships while the three other flags represent warships. This sub has had seven “kills” total.

Third, the caption reads it is Mt. Fujiyama on the Japanese mainland in the background. American submarines did patrol the Japanese home waters although it is unlikely they would surface given the proximity of Japanese aircraft.

Fourth, the sailors manning the deck gun would have less than 30 seconds to get below if the sub suddenly had to dive! I’ve read accounts where men have dived head first into the open hatch to make certain they would make it.

In the lower left of the bottom picture there is a small insert picture of a US sailor with a quote underneath that reads; “You get at the Japs faster in a sub…says Fong On Git to New York’s Chinatown.”

Fong apparently was the first Chinese-American accepted by the Submarine Service. The paragraph tells us that Fong was anxious to avenge the land of his ancestors. That is a reference to the fact that Japan invaded China in 1937.

The remainder of the paragraph describes the benefits of enlisting in the Navy and the Submarine Service in particular. The benefits of service on a submarine include 50% higher pay, better food, comfortable air conditioned quarters, the opportunity to study technical subjects and “get quicker into action against the Japs.”

This past summer I toured the USS Cobia, a WW2 submarine built by EB on permanent display in Manitowoc, Wisconsin where subs of that type were also built. (Wisconsin Maritime Website. During the excellent tour I learned the following about serving on a US submarine.

US sailors had it better on our subs than any of our allies or enemies had on theirs. Apparently, Russian submarines were the absolute worst and an approximation of of what hell might be like.

However, the 50% higher pay was because of the much higher risk. Survivors from a depth charge attack were few and far between.

The food was better and often included ice cream-a luxury not enjoyed by anyone else. The better food was a morale boost as you can imagine. Being confined to under water most of the time with 60-70 other men had to be depressing which is why so many men could not survive the intense training and profiling they underwent.

They did have the opportunity to learn technical subjects. In fact they not only learned their speciality but everyone else’s speciality so that in case of an emergency anyone could do anyone else’s job!

As to the air-conditioning—that is a bit of a stretch although technically true. During WW2 submarines were powered by diesel engines that charged a battery bank. The battery was used when the sub was submerged. The diesel engines ran very hot and very smelly and the engine room was no doubt the worst place to do your duty. The diesel smell, heat and humidity, combined with the sweat of 60+ men produced a rather unpleasant environment which the air conditioning could not and did not cope with. Submariners earned their extra pay in more ways than one.

The Up and At’Em portion of the second picture explains submarine warfare against the Japanese who were often referred to as the “Jap” or “Japs.” World War 2 was not a time of political correctness and many ads and articles sought to stir the emotions particularly against the Japanese who launched a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor that drew the US into the war. No doubt racial prejudices fueled the fire.

The Life Magazine in which this ad appeared is dated November 1, 1943. It is claimed by the ad that up to that date 300 Japanese merchant ships had been sunk; a number that rings true with history. Japan was slowly being strangled as US forces took island after island and successfully reduced the numbers and effectiveness of the Japanese Navy. US submarines built by Electric Boat (and the Manitowoc shipyard) played a significant role in the victory that would come in 1945.