Life Magazine: Aftermath in North Africa, June, 1943

The Axis forces in Tunisia,  North Africa finally surrendered on May 12th, 1943 after more than 3 years of fighting.

A month after the surrender Life Magazine (June 14th, 1943 issue) did a photo spread on the aftermath. Below I captured some of the photos from that spread that feature some of the war hardware that was captured or destroyed.

It is appropriate to start with the picture below.


The Cost: Life Magazine seemed to be conscious of the true cost of war by showing American casualties (and sometimes others)  as well as the graves of the fallen. The US commitment to the North Africa Campaign began in November, 1942. According to US Army stats recorded in the story American casualties in the next 7 months totaled, 2,184 killed, 9,437 wounded and 6,937 missing for a total of 18, 558. Total Allied casualties were 70,000 in the same time period.


According to the caption two destroyed German tanks are visible. The one on the left is a Panzer IV. The “pile” on the far right is reportedly a Panzer VI, the famous Tiger tank. The explosion that destroyed it must have been massive. The utility vehicle on the right, above the destroyed Tiger tank appears to be an American Dodge 3\4 ton.


According to the caption the field guns in the foreground are German 105mm and in the background various anti-tank guns. After the Vichy French gave up in late 1942 after the Torch landings they joined the Allied side (with their Free French comrades). They were poorly equipped however and these German artillery pieces would be turned over to them.


More captured German motor transport to be turned over to the French. The caption mentions “eight-wheeled tank destroyers” as part of the booty but I think they mean eight-wheeled armored cars (none pictured).


By May, 1943 the Allies had air superiority and the Germans were forced to include more light AA in their organizations. Pictured here is a towed quad 20mm on the right and a towed 37mm in the foreground. At times light AA guns like these were employed in an anti-personnel role.


German small arms. The pile of light machine guns are probably the famous MG-34s.


If memory serves me I believe the Allies captured around 250,000 Axis troops (Italians and Germans) including members of the famous Africa Corps. In this picture Germans are being lined up to be fed and receive water. The original caption reported that that Germans were lightly guarded and for the most part were philosophical about their capture. My guess is that by May, 1943 most German soldiers realized it was just a matter of time before their ultimate and inevitable defeat. Most of them would end up in POW camps in Canada or the US and many in my home State of Wisconsin.

As a postscript to the above picture about 6 weeks ago on a visit to my doctor I spied an elderly couple entering another office. What caught my eye was the gentlemen’s clothing. He had on a tannish winter coat and on the left shoulder was a shield type patch in modern German flag colors. Emblazoned on the patch were the letters D.A. K. clearly standing for Deutsches  Afrika Korps. I could not speak to him but have wondered if the man was a veteran (he was quite old). I’ve read where captured German POWS returned to Wisconsin after the war. Who knows?


The Cost

I recently found a treasure trove of WW2 Life Magazines as well as a number of pre-war magazines for a marginal cost.

The issue below caught my eye because it is dated July 19th, 1944 thirteen days after the Normandy Invasion which took place on June 6th, 1944.

Life Magazines in the war years are fascinating to me not only for the excellent reporting from the various fronts US and Allied troops were engaged in but also for the advertising, some of which I’ve highlighted in this blog.

In this case I wanted to highlight The Cost of the invasion as recorded by Life Magazine The captions will explain what is going on.



One of the iconic images of the Normandy Invasion taken by Life photographers.


The original caption identifies the ship as a Coast Guard LCT (Landing Craft Tank). After the LCT dropped off the tanks on the beach it was used to evacuate casualties. Here a Coast Guard medical officer is giving a wounded GI a blood transfusion as the LCT heads for the hospital ship offshore.


For these GIs medical treatment on the hospital ship did not save their lives. The dead have been wrapped in white bags and according to the original caption will be shipped to England where they will be buried. The text of the article indicates that at this point (June 19th) the total casualty rate is unknown but higher than expected.


The UK’s Express tells the story of how Eisenhower (and Winston Churchill) were tormented by the expected casualty rate and the risk of failure. From what I’ve read Eisenhower grieved over the course of the rest of his life as he shouldered the responsibility of sending Americans and other Allied troops to their deaths as their supreme commander. I think this cover photo captures the seriousness of Eisenhower and the heavy load of responsibilty he bore.

The total casualties for all the forces involved in the Normandy Invasion can be found at The Dday Museum in the UK. Current research tells us that the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions suffered over 2,000 casualties on Omaha Beach. The opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan gives us some idea of that bloodbath.

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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.”

img011 2.jpg

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.