Excerpted from "On Wave and Wing: The 100 Year Quest to Perfect the Aircraft Carrier".
In December 1941, the aircraft carrier burst upon the world stage in a twentieth century version of Shock and Awe. Literally overnight the flattop leapt into the global spotlight with the stunning Pearl Harbor attack. Thus, the carrier resembled the proverbial country-western musician who worked twenty years to become an overnight sensation.
The U.S. and Japanese navies had commissioned their first carriers in 1922, beginning two decades of perfecting ships, aircraft, and operating doctrine. But the global leader was the British Royal Navy, which initiated the carrier to combat in World War I. In 1917 the battle cruiser HMS Furious was converted to operate Sopwith biplanes, and the next year she launched what a future generation would call a “power projection” mission against a German Zeppelin base.
Actually, the aircraft carrier’s origins predated the Great War. In November 1910, pioneer flyer Eugene Ely of the Glenn Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor company demonstrated the potential of ship-based aircraft by taking off from a platform rigged on a U.S. Navy cruiser. Two months later he plunked his pusher down on the improvised deck of another warship, dragged to a stop by hooks that snagged ropes stretched across the platform. The captain of USS Birmingham declared Ely’s feat the most important landing since the dove returned to Noah’s ark.
Winston Churchill’s history of the First World War, The World Crisis, consists of four original volumes that focused mostly on the fighting on the Western Front and the Dardanelles campaign, and two additional volumes that covered the aftermath of the war up to 1928 (The Aftermath) and the fighting on the Eastern Front. The latter volume, titled The Unknown War: The Eastern Front, is probably one of Churchill’s least known books.
The Unknown War was published in 1931, when the future British Prime Minister and war leader was in the early period of his years in the political wilderness. Churchill had suffered financially as a result of the stock market crash, and wrote articles and books to make a decent living. At the time he undertook to write The Unknown War he was already under contract to write My Early Life and his multi-volume biography of Marlborough.
“Churchill’s mind,” writes John Lukacs, “was steeped in history.” J.H. Plumb noted that “[h]istory was the heart of [Churchill’s] faith; it permeated everything which he touched, and it was the mainspring of his politics and the secret of his immense mastery.” As a writer of history, Churchill was influenced by Gibbon and Macaulay. “Stunning passages and phrases,” notes Lukacs, “are abundant in everyone of his books.”
Churchill had written two articles in Colliers Weekly about the war on the Eastern Front, and in early January 1930, he proposed to expand them into a sixth volume on the Great War. He wrote to his publisher: “While I have not made up my mind whether I can fit this in with all my other work, I am at present quite favourably disposed to the idea.” He suggested that he might be able to complete the work by January 1931. Scribner’s accepted his proposal and Churchill received an advance of 2,500 pounds.
The [Japanese] could have landed anywhere on the coast, and after our handful of ammunition was gone, they could have shot us like pigs in a pen.
— Major General Joseph Warren Stilwell
Commander, Western Defense Command Southern Sector
(December 11, 1941)
Judging from youtube videos and TV documentaries, as well as books, there seems to be a fixation on Nazism and the occult. Since Nazism is the epitome of evil, many people seem to think that it just must be connected with the occult. After all, Hitler’s rise to power and dictatorial sway over the German population defies reason. The atrocities his regime perpetrated were of demonic proportions.
However, the Nazi involvement with the occult is more complicated and bizarre than many people realize. Even before Hitler’s right-hand man, Rudolf Hess, flew his foolish and naïve mission to Britain to try to negotiate with the British, Hitler had expressed disapproval of Hess’s interest in the occult. Upon learning about Hess’s escapade, Hitler exploded in rage and blamed Hess’s lunacy on his occultism. After fulminating against Hess’s “astrological clique,” Hitler stated, “It is thus time radically to clear away this astrological nonsense.”
Hitler was not just blowing hot air. Hess’s replacement, Martin Bormann, informed Reinhard Heydrich, the leading figure in the SS behind Himmler, that Hitler “wishes that the strongest measures be directed against occultists, astrologists, medical quacks, and the like, who lead the people astray into stupidity and superstition.”
In early June Heydrich organized a police sweep and threw astrologers, spiritists, theosophists, and other occultists into prison or concentration camps. German police simultaneously shut down presses publishing occult literature. Goebbels, who agreed with Hitler’s anti-occultist mentality, joyfully recorded in his diary: “All astrologers, hypnotists, Anthroposophists, etc., arrested and their entire activity crippled. Thus finally this swindle has ended. Peculiarly not a single clairvoyant foresaw that he would be arrested. A bad professional sign!”
(Excerpted from "Target: JFK, The Spy Who Killed Kennedy?" by Robert K. Wilcox)
In a diary written in 1970—only seven years after JFK’s assassination— Bazata begins, “This is a history of the liaison of 2 men across 50 years of clandestiny ... It culminated in the death of John F. Kennedy [although, he adds, Kennedy wasn’t the first president targeted.] It is not a belated ‘confession’ or spate of ‘remorse’ or spiteful tale. It is not told for money ... It is revealed because this ‘telling’ is part of the gigantic [assassination] plan [bringing it] to a ‘near’ finish. It remains for [America to change and thus] finish it.”
Dussaq, writes Bazata, hatched his plot ultimately to make America aware of its leaders’ manipulation of smaller countries, and the price he believed would have to be paid because of that waywardness. Further, he delegated Bazata, when the time was right—after the assassination’s shock had dissipated—to tell the public the truth about what had happened in hopes America’s leaders would change and allow sovereign nations like Cuba to decide their own fate rather than have America decide it for them.
Throughout the diaries, Bazata, to protect his friend, calls Dussaq “Peter” or “Paul,” mostly “Paul.” It’s a play on the Biblical transformation of Saul to Paul, which occurs soon in their relationship. But there is no doubt in my mind who Bazata means. Occasionally he slips, naming Dussaq outright. Regardless, there are so many indicators in the story pointing directly to Dussaq that “Peter” or “Paul” could be no other.
One hundred fifty years ago, in the fall of 1866, President Andrew Johnson forced members of his party to make a choice. They could either accept his vision for the country or abandon him. Facing a similarly stark dilemma, today’s Republicans should consider the cautionary tale of the 17th president.
A year and a half earlier, Johnson had enjoyed the full backing of his party. Elevated to the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson had come into office intending to carry on the work of his predecessor. Although a lifelong Democrat from the South, Johnson had run with the Republican Lincoln on the National Union ticket in 1864—the wartime embodiment of the pro-Union and anti-slavery Republican Party. After Lincoln’s death, every one of his Cabinet members stayed on to serve under Johnson, and Republican congressional leaders expressed strong support for the new president. Even a potential political rival, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the great hero of the Civil War, rallied around the country’s new leader.
Like Lincoln, Johnson favored a policy of Reconstruction for white Southerners that was relatively generous. His two presidential proclamations announced in May 1865, just a month after the end of the war, looked to a speedy reunion. Johnson called for a general amnesty for former Confederates (with some exceptions), thus avoiding long and bitter treason trials. He also called for the formation of new loyal governments in the formerly seceded states, provided that they agree to end slavery, repudiate secession, and cancel the debts owed to Confederate bondholders.
But on another major issue of Reconstruction—the rights of formerly enslaved African-Americans—Johnson gradually staked out a narrow, backward-looking position. Johnson fully supported the 13th Amendment ending slavery, which Lincoln had helped get through Congress. But in contrast to Lincoln’s expressed desire to extend gradually the franchise to African-Americans, Johnson ended up taking a hard line against granting civil or political rights to the former slaves.
Sixty years ago the striking photograph of a teenage girl dressed in a cotton-wool jacket and clutching a Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun became an iconic image of the Hungarian Revolution.
A Danish photojournalist, Vagn Hansen, had snapped the photo as Hungarian insurgents battled Soviet troops in the streets of Budapest in late October and early November of 1956. First published in the Danish magazine Billed Bladet, the photograph quickly was reproduced in newspapers and other publications around the world.
Hansen was one of a talented and brave group of foreign correspondents and journalists who covered the Hungarian uprising. Historian János Molnár has estimated that some 150 newsmen and women, most from the West, found their way to Budapest during the uprising.
The mass media coverage of the Hungarian Revolution offered an object lesson in the value of a free press. As the faltering Communist regime lost control of the borders, foreign correspondents were able to enter the country. Once there, the absence of government “minders” and censors allowed journalists to report what they saw, “without fear or favor of friend or foe.” The result: a balanced, independent, and accurate account of what was happening on the ground in Hungary.
President Woodrow Wilson lay with his mouth drooping, unconscious, having suffered a thrombosis on October 2, 1919, that left him paralyzed on his left side and barely able to speak. The doctors believed the president’s best chance for survival was in the only known remedy for a stroke at the time: a rest cure consisting of total isolation from the world.
His wife of four years, Edith Bolling Wilson, asked how a country could function with no chief executive. Dr. Dercum, the attending physician, leaned over and gave Edith her charge: “Madam, it is a grave situation, but I think you can solve it. Have everything come to you; weigh the importance of each matter, and see if it is possible by consultations with the respective heads of the Departments to solve them without the guidance of your husband.”
From there, Edith Wilson would act as the president’s proxy and run the White House and, by extension, the country, by controlling access to the president, signing documents, pushing bills through Congress, issuing vetoes, isolating advisors, crafting State of the Union addresses, disposing of or censoring correspondence, and filling positions. She would analyze every problem and decide which ones to bring to the president’s attention and which to solve on her own through her own devices. All the while she had to keep the fact that the country was no longer being run by President Woodrow Wilson a guarded secret.
A few guessed at the real situation. A frustrated Senator Albert Fall from New Mexico pounded the senatorial table when he demanded a response from the White House: “We have a petticoat government! Wilson is not acting! Mrs. Wilson is President!”
Washington was always concerned about spies. They were a constant problem except when the armies were on the move. He knew he could not stop all of them, so feeding them false information was his next best defense. With that in mind on December 12, 1776, he told Colonel John Cadwalader1 of the Philadelphia Associators of the Pennsylvania militia, “Keep a good look out for spies; endeavor to magnify your numbers as much as possible.” It was a ploy he would use over and over again in creating false troop information, inflating the size and giving the wrong location of his forces for spies to discover and take back to enemy headquarters.
Washington in December of 1776 was desperate to know what the British were doing. Spare no pains or expense to get intelligence of the enemy’s intentions, Washington told Cadwalader. He had also told General James Ewing, “Spare no pains nor cost to gain information of the enemy’s movements and designs. Whatever sums you pay to obtain this end I will cheerfully refund. “He also advised Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson to spare no pains or expense to obtain intelligence, and all promises he made or monies advanced would be acknowledged and paid. Three days later Washington was still desperate for information and again was encouraging Cadwalader to get intelligence of the enemy’s intentions.
Dickinson, who was at Yardley’s farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, advised Washington on the 21st of the information he was able to collect from two people who had come out of New Jersey on what was going on in New Brunswick, and from a person from Crosswicks regarding boats at Lewis’s Mill. A slave from Trenton told of boats being built a mile from town. Dickinson told Washington he was going to increase the amount he was offering to $15 or $20 for someone to go as a spy to Trenton and return. “People here are fearful of the inhabitants betraying them.” On the 24th he was able to secure someone to take the risks and he got him across the river into New Jersey. He was due back the next morning, at which time he was going to be provided with a horse to get to Washington.
On the morning of December 31, 1776, while at Crosswicks, one of Cadwalader’s spies, who was identified only as “a very intelligent young gentleman,” had just returned from the British camp at Princeton some sixteen miles distant. He identified the number and locations of British and Hessian forces in the town. He said “there were about five thousand men, consisting of Hessians and British troops—about the same number of each. . . . He conversed with some of the officers, and lodged last night with them.” As part of a disinformation campaign, Washington had previously instructed that the numbers of American troops were to be magnified. The spy complied with these instructions by saying that Washington had 16,000 men. However, they would not believe that Washington had more than 5,000 or 6,000. The spy reported, “They parade every morning an hour before day [break]—and some nights lie on their arms—An attack has been expected for several nights past—the men are much fatigued, and until last night [were] in want of provisions—when a very considerable number of wagons arrived with provisions from [New] Brunswick.” He provided a crucial piece of information: the enemy was not expecting an attack from the east, as there were “no sentries on the back or east side of the town” facing the water, thus leaving the town unguarded. The spy also provided enough detailed information for a map, which was made by Cadwalader, showing the enemy’s positions at Princeton.
Japan’s Pearl Harbor Cover-Up
In San Francisco, author and radio personality Upton Close, who was described by NBC as their “expert on the Far East,” opened his radio commentary Sunday afternoon by saying “there’s more behind this than meets the eye.”
He had picked up his phone, called the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco and asked to speak with Consul General Yoshio Muto. Instead, he was connected with Kazuyoshi Inagaki, who identified himself as the Consul’s secretary and who told Close that the Pearl Harbor attack came as a “complete surprise” to the consulate staff and that the first he and Muto knew about it came in American radio bulletins.
“That may prove to be true,” Close speculated. “It is very possible that there is a double-double cross in this business. . .. It is possible that this is a coup engineered by a small portion of the Japanese Navy that has gone fanatic. . .. It might be possible for the Japanese government to repudiate this action, to repair the injury to America.”
Historical scholarship has greatly benefitted from specialists who burrow deep into their particular areas or subjects of study to produce remarkably detailed information about specific events, time periods, and major historical figures. Some historians, however, take a broader approach and endeavor to discern general historical trends or patterns throughout human history.
In August 1934, the first three volumes of Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History were published under the auspices of Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs. Over the next 27 years, Toynbee wrote nine more volumes to complete his remarkable “comparative study” of 21 human civilizations. It was Toynbee’s lifelong effort, wrote his biographer William H. McNeill, “restlessly and unremittingly, to make the world make sense.”
Toynbee was born on April 14, 1889, in London. From an early age and under the influence of his mother, Toynbee was drawn to history, especially military history and the clash of nations and empires. At age 13, he entered Winchester public school where he studied the classics and learned “to compose both prose and verse in the ancient languages.” He wrote essays on Venetian and Byzantine history, and even at a young age, according to McNeill, “insisted on approaching the past on a grand scale, bridging time and space as specialists habitually refused to do.”
Later, at Balliol College, he was influenced by Eduard Mayer’s Geschicte des Altertums, described by McNeill as a five-volume synthesis of centuries of European history and scholarship. In one letter, the young Toynbee expressed his desire to become a “great gigantic historian.”
In the fall of 1861, Union Gen. George McClellan approved a plan submitted by Gen. Ambrose Burnside to seize Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina.
The island, described by historian James McPherson as “a swampy piece of land ten miles long, two miles wide, and rich in legend,” is situated between the Albemarle and Pamlico Sound, and separated from the North Carolina coast by the Croatan Sound. It was the site of the “Lost Colony” of English settlers who disappeared without a trace in 1590—a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.
McClellan understood that seizing Roanoke Island meant Union control of the North Carolina coast and, in McPherson’s judgment, commanding the “key to Richmond’s back door.” Historian Shelby Foote compared Roanoke Island to “a loose-fitting cork plugging the neck of ... Albemarle Sound.” “Nothing that went by water,” explained Foote, “could get in there without going past the cork.”
Burnside with the full cooperation of the Union Navy launched the expedition from Annapolis in early January 1862. Burnside had about 13,000 men divided into three divisions commanded by John G. Parks, J. G. Foster, and Jesse Reno. The naval components of the expedition—more than 80 vessels, including nine warships mounting 64 guns and five floating batteries—were under the command of Adm. Louis Goldsborough.
In early May 1864, about 98,000 Union troops under the command of Gen. William T. Sherman opened the Atlanta campaign by seizing control of Tunnel Hill and the critical rail tunnel for the Western & Atlantic Railroad, located a few miles north of Dalton, Ga.
Sherman’s force was divided into three armies: the Army of the Tennessee under Gen. James B. McPherson; the army of the Ohio under Gen. John Schofield; and the main force, the Army of the Cumberland, led by Gen. George H. Thomas, whose heroics the previous year in northern Georgia earned for him the sobriquet “the Rock of Chickamauga.”
Sherman’s task, as outlined by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, was to move against the Confederate Army in northern Georgia, “break it up, and get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” Sherman achieved this goal by repeatedly outflanking the Confederate army of about 60,000 men, led by Gen. Joseph Johnston in a protracted struggle extending more than 100 miles from the Tennessee border to just south of Atlanta, then a major transportation hub and arsenal for the Confederacy. The great Civil War historian Shelby Foote called this campaign a “red clay minuet,” after the color of the soil in northern Georgia caused by iron oxides.
Atlanta was the great prize in this struggle. Jefferson Davis warned that the fall of Atlanta would “open the way for the Federal Army to the Gulf on the one hand, and to Charleston on the other, and close up those rich granaries from which Lee’s armies are supplied. It would give [the Union] control of our network of railways and thus paralyze our efforts.”
Seventy-two years ago, on June 6, 1944, Allied troops waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. The night before, on June 5, American airborne forces had landed on the western flank of the invasion area near Sainte-Mère-Église, while British airborne forces secured the eastern flank and Pegasus Bridge. They jumped out of C-47 Dakota transport planes, through darkness and into glory. Some arrived by glider. Private John Steele of the 82nd Airborne landed on the steeple of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. He managed to survive by playing dead.
Today a visitor to Sainte-Mère-Église can observe a mannequin representing Steele hanging from the church tower. Inside the church is a stained glass window of the Virgin Mary surrounded by American paratroopers.
On Utah Beach—all of the landing sites had code names—56-year-old Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (the oldest son of former president Teddy Roosevelt) landed about a mile away from his intended target. When asked whether to re-embark the 4th Infantry Division, he simply said, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Prior to the landing, Omaha Beach, also known as Bloody Omaha, had received an abbreviated naval bombardment from ships such as the battleship Texas lasting only 35 minutes. The bare stretches of beach offered no cover for the American invaders as German machine guns from fortified gun emplacements swept the beaches.
The U.S. Rangers, who had trained earlier on the cliffs of Dorset, scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc while being shot at by German soldiers. Their mission was to destroy artillery pieces targeted on the landing zones. Their commander was Lt. Col. James Rudder. Unknown to Rudder’s Rangers, most of the artillery had already been moved by the Germans. They held their position for two days in the face of fierce counterattacks by the Germans' 916th Grenadiers. At the Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc, one can still see massive craters created by the Allied naval bombardment.
Memorial Day this year calls on all Americans with particular significance. It requires us to look backward at our past and forward to our future as our nation considers its choices for its next commander in chief.
Just last year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the worst war in human history. Americans like Lt. Dick Winters of the 101st Airborne parachuted into Normandy 72 years ago, in 1944, in Operation Overlord. In the spring of 1945, American soldiers discovered the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. After Gen. Dwight Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf concentration camp, which had been liberated by American troops on April 4, he declared: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he will know what he is fighting against.”
Over the course of just under four years, over 16 million American men and women had served in some capacity in the war. Today in 2016, fewer than one million WWII vets are still alive.
Just over 400,000 Americans, most of them young, never returned from their duties in World War II. On Memorial Day, Americans will visit cemeteries such as Arlington in Virginia, as well as many more around the nation. Many Americans who paid the ultimate price are, however, buried overseas, in 24 different cemeteries in 11 different countries.
An excerpt from "The Bridgebusters: The True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing" by Thomas Cleaver.
As bombs began to fall from the lead plane, the other bombardiers triggered their own and turned to check the intervalometer that recorded the release of each bomb to insure the bombs were indeed falling as they should. When the fourth light blinked, the bombardiers hit the door control to close the bomb bays and reported on the intercom, “bombs gone—doors closing.” Suddenly one of the bombers was bracketed by three close bursts of deadly “88” flak, the explosions outside so close and so loud the bombardier could hear them even with his radio headset over his ears and over the roar of the engines. Chunks of deadly shrapnel rattled against the Mitchell bomber’s thin aluminum skin like a barrage of rocks on a tin roof, penetrating the airplane to strike instruments, gear, and human flesh.
With bombs gone, the pilot commenced immediate evasive action and banked away to the right. At that moment more flak exploded outside and the right wingtip of the plane was blown off, fluttering away into space. The co-pilot, transfixed in his seat with nothing to do but observe the terrifying moment, gave in to his terror as a voice shrieked over the intercom, “Help me! I’m hit.” He reached out, grabbed his control yoke, and whipped it over hard to the right as he pushed forward. The left wing came up at a steep angle as the nose turned down and the plane banked into a wild dive.
“Help him! Help him!” the co-pilot cried into the intercom.
On May 12, 1962, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, age 82, delivered his farewell address to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he had set academic records as a student that remain unsurpassed and where as superintendent in the early 1920s he brought the curriculum of the revered institution into the 20th century.
In accepting the school’s Sylvanus Thayer Medal for outstanding service to his country, MacArthur organized his speech around the sacred motto of West Point: “Duty, Honor, Country.” It was the last public act of a military career that spanned more than a half-century; that witnessed triumphs and tragedies, glory and disgrace.
To author and Pacific War veteran William Manchester, MacArthur was “the most-gifted man-at-arms this nation has produced.” To army veteran and military historian Geoffrey Perret, he was the America’s greatest soldier of the 20th century.
Several of MacArthur’s contemporaries were equally profuse in their praise of his abilities. During the First World War, Secretary of War Newton Baker called him “the greatest American field commander produced by the war.” One American general officer said of MacArthur’s heroics in World War I, “[o]n a field where courage was the rule, his courage was the dominant factor.” George Marshall, who commanded MacArthur during the Second World War, called him “our most brilliant general.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called him “the glorious commander,” while British Army Chief of Staff Alan Brooke viewed him as “the greatest general and the best strategist that the war produced.”
In August 1861, a small Confederate army of Texans occupied portions of the vast New Mexico territory and claimed it for the Confederacy. Six months later, a force of 75 Southern troops commanded by Capt. Sherrod Hunter marched to Tucson, which became the westernmost outpost of the Confederacy.
President Jefferson Davis intended for the Confederate States of America to occupy southern territory from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, which was rich in minerals. One Confederate colonel stated that “The vast mineral resources of Arizona, in addition to affording an outlet to the Pacific, makes its acquisition a matter of some importance to our government.” President Abraham Lincoln was equally determined to prevent that from happening.
Upon learning of this troop movement, Union commanding Gen. George McClellan ordered 1,400 troops from California (the so-called “California Column”) under the command of Brig. Gen.l James Carleton to march across the Sonoran Desert to meet this Confederate challenge. The Union plan, as described by Ray Colton in his book The Civil War in the Western Territories, was for Union forces to march along the Gila River and establish a base at the Pima Villages.
“From there,” Colton writes, “the cavalry were to dash forward into Tucson by a cross-country route and surprise the Rebels.” When Captain Hunter learned about the Union troop movement, he advanced from Tucson northwest to the Gila River. In early April 1862, Union forces arrived at present-day Casa Grande, Ariz. The stage was set for the westernmost “battle” of the American Civil War.
Sixty years ago, in the spring of 1956, Winston Churchill’s first volume of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples was published by Dodd, Mead & Company in New York. Over the next two years, three additional volumes appeared. Churchill in his early-to-mid eighties had continued to revise and rewrite this work that he originally conceived and partially wrote in the late 1930s before joining the war cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty and later as Prime Minister and Defense Minister.
On April 6, 1955, Churchill had submitted to the Queen his resignation as Prime Minister. The next day, he returned to his beloved Chartwell to work again on the history. “Within forty-eight hours of his retirement,” Martin Gilbert wrote, “he had found a new focus of activity.”
Churchill’s writing of history, we have learned, was the product of his own prodigious efforts and the work of a remarkable group of research assistants and consultants, including William Deakin, Lord Ismay, Henry Pownell, A.L. Rowse, Allan Bullock, Alan Hodge, Denis Kelly, and others. Some of those assistants would draft whole chapters that Churchill would subsequently edit. Others would help rewrite sections of the book that Churchill drafted in the late 1930s.
Churchill spent much of the 1930s in the political wilderness, repeatedly warning the British government and the world about the growing danger of Hitler’s Germany. Kept from Cabinet office by the leaders of his own party, Churchill supplemented his Parliamentary income by writing—articles on current events and books on history. He began writing A History of the English-Speaking Peoples while also completing his final volume of his great biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill had written more than 500,000 words of the history when Germany invaded Poland to ignite the European phase of the Second World War.
In February 1945, in the wake of Germany’s unsuccessful offensive in the Ardennes Forest known as the Battle of the Bulge, the Allied armies in northwest Europe launched their final, broad-front offensive to the heart of Germany. One of the key components of this plan was the Ninth Army’s attack across the Roer River, codenamed “Operation Grenade.”
Between October 1944 and mid-December 1944, elements of the Ninth Army and other Allied forces had slugged it out with German forces along the German West Wall, also known as the Siegfried Line, which extended over 600 kilometers in length, between 13 and 32 kilometers in depth, and hosted more than 18,000 tunnels, tank traps, and bunkers. The terrain along the Siegfried Line, moreover, was relatively flat and dotted with small villages that furnished their defenders with “mutually supporting fortifications,” according to military historian Russell Weigley.
David R. Higgins in his book The Roer River Battles, described the hellish struggle that American infantrymen waged to reach the west bank of the Roer. Once there, however, Allied armies took up defensive positions while dealing with the German surprise offensive in the Ardennes. After the “Bulge” was eliminated in some of the heaviest and costliest fighting in northwest Europe during the war, Allied armies went back on the offensive.
Initially planned for Feb. 10, the Roer crossing was moved to the 23rd because the German defenders used their control of the Roer Dams to flood the river and inundate the valley. Charles B. MacDonald, author of The Last Offensive (1973), one of a series of excellent volumes on the U.S. Army’s operations in the European theater in World War II, wrote that in some places where the Roer was normally 25-30 yards wide, “it spread into a lake more than a mile wide.”