Tag Archives: WWII

Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. D-Day.

Today, June 6th, we commemorate the anniversary of the Normandy landings during World War II in 1944, what is often referred to as D-Day.

A few weeks ago, we visited “Omaha beach“, one of the beaches where Americans landed, which you may have seen as, along with many documentaries, it was staged in the film “Saving Private Ryan“. The beach is about 6 kilometres long and extends through different villages. And it is not the only beach where Allied forces landed, as there were Americans landing at Utah beach as well, together with British landing at Sword and Gold beaches, more to the East, and Canadians at Juno beach.

Omaha_1

The Germans had fortified the hills, built barracks, installed obstacles in the beach and planted thousands of mines.

The landings, part of the Operation Overlord, code named Neptune, started at 6:30am, and they continued for weeks. Just on D-Day Allied forces counted 10,000 casualties with over 4,000 confirmed dead, with similar figures in the German side.

After the first days, a bridge, “Mulberry” was built to offload vehicles from boats coming from the United Kingdom. Some days during the summer up to 24,000 men or 3,000 vehicles crossed that bridge. An aerodrome was built uphill to evacuate the injured. The original bridge was brought down in the following winter by strong sea tides. Today a relic has been built, with some of the original concrete blocks visible in low tide.

Omaha_7

Today, there are several monuments along the beach, one of them Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial. It is a sculpture that symbolizes wings of hope, freedom, fraternity.

Omaha_5

In front of it there is a monument to the 1st US Infantry Division. It has the following inscription engraved in it:

No mission too difficult.

No sacrifice too great. Duty first.

Forced Omaha beach at dawn 6 June.

Omaha_6

By the monument visitors leave candles, flowers and some written notes. Most of them stand by in silence watching the vastness of the beach, thinking of the sheer numbers of people involved in the operation and what awaited them, praying for their lost ones. Occasionally a bus comes with veterans, relatives of soldiers who fought there, you name it, and trumpet plays Taps.

Nearby, a panel reminds the lyrics of the song “Remember Omaha” by Jean Goujon.

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Musée de l’Aéronautique of Luchon

On July 19th of 1945, the British bomber Halifax Mk III Mz 981, from the 644th squadron of the Royal Air Force’s 38th transport command departed from Christchurch, in the South of England’s coast on a training mission that would take it all the way to the Cape d’Adge in the Mediterranean French coast.

Route followed by Halifax III MZ 981.

Route followed by Halifax III MZ 981.

On the way back, the aircraft would return to England crossing the South of France till the Atlantic ocean by way of Toulouse. With the fall of the night the pilot took a wrong heading (1) towards the Pyrenees, crashing against the Pic Lampau (2,543m).

About 50 years later, in the eighties, Léon Elissalde, an important figure of Luchon at the time, knowing about the crash of the Halifax III during WWII set out to look for lost parts of the aircraft. He found some of the engines, propellers, crankshafts, etc.

He knew about other crashes in the Pyrenees during WWII as well. A British Halifax II which crashed against the Pic Douluy when coming on a mission all the way from Algeria (see a description of that mission here, in French) and two German Dornier 217 equipped with BMW engines which allegedly were on the look out for the area where maquis were hidden in the mountains.

Elissalde, with all those parts created the Musée de l’Aéronautique of Luchon, located in a small hangar of village’s aerodrome.

Museum interior.

Musée de l’Aéronautique of Luchon.

We visited the museum last weekend. We counted with the guidance of a retired technician of the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force), who described the details of each of the engines, aircraft in which they were mounted and the mission the flew when they crashed. The visit lasted about an hour.

Breguet 941S preserved at Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, image by PpPachy.

The museum includes some other engines, such as the turbojet Hispano Suiza Nene, which equipped the French Mistral, or the turboshaft Turmo III D3, which equipped the aircraft Breguet 941. The 941 was a short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft with blown wings designed in the 1950s and which flew for the 1st time in 1961. One curiosity of this aircraft is that using 4 turboshaft engines (designed to power helicopters, not planes), all 4 engines’ turbines did not directly turn the propellers but rather powered a common shaft that ran along the leading edge of the wing powering the 4 propellers. A Breguet 941 is displayed at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Le Bourget, Paris.

Luchon is a nice village located at the heart of the Pyrenees, close to Super Bagneres skiing station, to some of the summits cycled in the Tour de France and has a great spa with water from natural sources. It is a great destination where to spend a few days. One hour of those days is well employed visiting the aviation museum.

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(1) My flight instructor uses to say “Dans l’air, le cap est la vie” (“in the air, the heading is the life”).

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Hiroshima and the Enola Gay

Today, August 6th, in 1945 the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” dropped over Hiroshima (Japan) the first nuclear bomb, “Little Boy“, used in combat. I guess you have had the chance to read about it in several places along the day. However, I thought of writing this post in order to connect several points related to the story, some of which I have only discovered quite recently…

Hiroshima

Luca and I, together with some friends visited Japan during the summer of 2008. A mandatory stop was Hiroshima. There we visited the Hiroshima Peace Site, museum and park.

You can spend several hours in the museum: from reading about the life in Hiroshima prior to the war, during the war and before the bombing, about the Manhattan Project, learning from specific cases of victims of the bomb, several testimonies, replicas from wounded people, etc. Some parts of the museum are truly shocking.

In the museum you could read several letters related to the Manhattan Project, for example these two from brigadier general Leslie Groves (in charge of the project) and Albert Einstein:

Letter from general Leslie Groves (Peace)

Letter from brigadier general Leslie Groves (Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

Einstein’s letter to F.D. Roosevelt (Hiroshima Peace Memorial).

Some years ago, I read the book “The World as I see it“, from Albert Einstein in which he explained retrospectively his thoughts at the time of supporting the Manhattan Project. I already wrote a post about that book and recommend the reading of it.

In the Memorial Park, two things caught my attention: Genbaku Dome and the story of Sadako Sasaki.

Genbaku Dome

The dome (also called “A-dome”) was the only structure in the area which was left standing. This is because the explosion of the bomb happened at about 600m above the dome and about 150m away horizontally enabling the structure to stand the nearly vertical compression it suffered due to the blast.

The dome was initially scheduled to be demolished, but finally it was preserved, being today UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima.

Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima.

Sadako Sasaki

As I did in a post I wrote 3 years ago, in order to explain her story I will paste below an excerpt from Wikipedia‘s article on the history of origami (paper birds):

Legend says that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart’s desire come true. The origami crane has become a symbol of peace because of this legend, and because of a young Japanese girl namedSadako Sasaki. Sadako was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as an infant, and it took its inevitable toll on her health. She was then a hibakusha — an atom bomb survivor. By the time she was twelve in 1955, she was dying of leukemia. Hearing the legend, she decided to fold one thousand origami cranes so that she could live. However, when she saw that the other children in her ward were dying, she realized that she would not survive and wished instead for world peace and an end to suffering.   

A popular version of the tale is that Sadako folded 644 cranes before she died; her classmates then continued folding cranes in honor of their friend. She was buried with a wreath of 1,000 cranes to honor her dream. While her effort could not extend her life, it moved her friends to make a granite statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park: a young girl standing with her hand outstretched, a paper crane flying from her fingertips. Every year the statue is adorned with thousands of wreaths of a thousand origami cranes.   

The tale of Sadako has been dramatized in many books and movies. In one version, Sadako wrote a haiku that translates into English as:   

I shall write peace upon your wings, and you shall fly around the world so that children will no longer have to die this way.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial park paper cranes.

In previous posts in the blog I explained how I have repeatedly encountered these paper birds around the world: in NY Saint Paul’s Chapel (close to World Trade Center zone zero), in Manzanar War Relocation Center (where Americans of Japanese origin were kept captive during WWII)…

Enola Gay

The “Enola Gay“, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress (named after the mother of the pilot Paul Tibbets) that dropped the bomb has become known worldwide. You can see the actual plane at the National Air and Space Museum in Dulles (Washington DC), where it is on exhibit. I wrote about that museum in this post, and you can see the airplane in the image below:

Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” at National Air and Space Museum (Washington DC).

However, there are other aerospace museums where you can get closer to B-29 Superfortress aircraft, for example, the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, which we visited some months ago. There they had one B-29 on exhibit in one of its hangars:

Boeing B-29 Superfortress at Pima Air and Space Museum.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress at Pima Air and Space Museum (Tucson, AZ).

In the Pima museum, you could get really up close (not so in the NASM in Dulles) and you could get your head inside the bomb bay of the aircraft, the same bomb bay from which “Little Boy” was dropped from the “Enola Gay”:

Bomb bay of a B-29 Superfortress (at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ).

Bomb bay of a B-29 Superfortress (at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ).

Close to this B-29, they displayed two replicas of the Enola Gay and the bomb, “Little Boy”:

B-29 "Enola Gay" replica and "Little Boy" bomb replica (at Pima Air and Space Museum).

B-29 “Enola Gay” replica and “Little Boy” bomb replica (at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ).

And finally, you could see a replica of the Enola Gay’s Navigator’s Log. I was caught by surprise to find all this material at the museum. The original log, written by the navigator that day, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, was sold in a public auction some years ago for over 350k$.

While at the museum, I took some minutes to watch the replica, the route the plane followed, the points of reference it used, the notes he made… and especially, the line in which Theodore, at 9:15am, noted “Bomb Away” (the 10th line of the second box) just before turning back over the port of the island of Omishima (which is wrongly reported in the log as “Mishima”).

Replica of Navigator's Log of the "Enola Gay" (at Pima Air and Space Museum).

Replica of Navigator’s Log of the “Enola Gay” (at Pima Air and Space Museum).

The picture above hasn’t got very good quality, but you can read an account of those moments in the following passage from the book “Japan 1945: From Operation Downfall to Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (by Clayton Chun):

Excerpt from "xxx" by Chun,

Excerpt from “Japan 1945: From Operation Downfall to Hiroshima and Nagasaki” by Clayton Chun.

***

It was a long post this time, but I think it was worthwhile to touch the story from the several points of view I have “experienced” it throughout these last years.

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