S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “History”

Book Review- Killing the Rising Sun

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Rating – Five Stars

Bill O’Reilly hits a home run with his compendium of the 1940s Pacific War. He writes in an easy, sparse, and empathetic style. He paints the big pictures of the major land and sea battles and tells the stories of the “grunts” that did the fighting and dying. We know these grunts. We identify with them, we are appalled at the horrendous casualties, we share the agony with the wounded, and we attend their burials at sea, in unmarked graves, and at Arlington.

O’Reilly sets the stage for the war in the Pacific with the Empire of Japan. We learn of the building animosity in the 1930s between America and the Empire of Japan. The animus began when Japan invaded the Chinese province Manchuria in September 1931. Japan was eager to implement its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to conqueror East Asia for its natural resources. The animus increased when Japan invaded China in July 1937. The Kwantung Army captured Peking, Shanghai, and other coastal cities in a few days. French Indo-China fell to Japan in July 1941.

Responding, President Roosevelt (with Great Britain and the Netherlands) imposed an embargo on petroleum products, steel, and other natural resources for Japan. At the time, the Imperial Japanese Navy had only three months of bunker oil. General Hideki Tojo ordered the implementation of Command Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan for a surprise attack on our fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—Tora! Tora! Tora!

In the early morning on Sunday December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese aircraft, from three aircraft carriers, bombed and torpedoed our fleet in Pearl Harbor with devastating results: sunk were the battleships, USS Arizona, USS Utah, USS Oklahoma, USS West Virginia, and USS California. Five other battleships were heavily damaged. President Roosevelt declared war on the Empire of Japan with the phrase, “a date which will live in infamy.”

O’Reilly guides us our journey through the bloody campaigns throughout the South and Central Pacific, and to the Japan’s home island Okinawa—where Kamikaze pilots drove their aircraft directly into our ships—causing devastating casualties in sailors and ships.

He details the great sea battles with cogency, Java Sea, Bismarck Sea, Coral Sea, Midway, Espírito Santo (“The Slot”), Battle of the Philippine Sea, Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Okinawa Campaign. We crawl through the islands with the grunts: Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Buna, New Georgia, Mankin, Tarawa, Leyte, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Okinawa.

Almost seventy percent of this book discusses the atomic bomb. We follow President Roosevelt’s approval, General Groves management of this titanic project, Doctor Oppenheimer assembling his team at Los Alamos, work, innovation, breakthrough, and testing. The bomb on board the B-29 dubbed Enola Gay, Hiroshima in flames; another bomb on the B-29 dubbed Box Car, Nagasaki in flames. We see General MacArthur on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay signing the instrument of surrender. The greatest, most deadly, and costly war has concluded.

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Book Review- Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last: Second Edition

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Rating – Three Stars

For the aficionado of the Amelia Earhart disappearance, Campbell’s book is a must-read. He has assiduously reviewed the relevant literature regarding her last flight and, with keen ingenuity, he has compiled a compelling account that purports to unmask the enduring enigma of that flight. From the pertinent publications, he has excerpted eyewitness accounts (and second- and third-hand narratives), relevant documents, and technical details, and has assembled this substantial information into a coherent chronology.

Background: On 21 May 1937, in Oakland, California, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, started an around-the-world flight in her customized Lockheed Electra model 10E. At 1030 hours on 2 June 1939, they departed Lae, New Guinea, bound on a nonstop flight to Howland Island—2,333 nautical miles distant. They vanished. And the mystery has endured.

With deductive reasoning, Campbell concludes that Amelia Earhart landed her Lockheed Electra model 10E on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. There is no credible data to explain Earhart’s decision to fly into the Marshall—a dangerous action. Under a 1920 League of Nations mandate, the Japanese controlled the Marshall Islands—the Carolines and the Marianas. Japan sealed off this vast area of the Central Pacific within the Bamboo Curtain. In secret, during the 1930s, the Imperial Japanese Navy began construction of airfields, fortifications, ports, and other military projects in preparation for the upcoming war with the Occidentals.

Members of the Japanese Navy captured Earhart and Noonan, and took them to Saipan, the Japanese Navy Headquarters in the Pacific. The pair were interrogated, and imprisoned as spies. Eventually, a Japanese officer beheaded Noonan, and Amelia Earhart was either killed or died of disease. Their bodies were buried in unmarked graves.

The rebuttal to this scenario is that there are no artifacts, no photographs, and no written documents—we have nothing tangible. This lack of hard evidence is especially curious. The Japanese were obsessively driven to keep meticulous documentation and to keep Military Headquarters in Tokyo well informed of any out-of-ordinary activities. The capture of the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart would certainly have engendered a flurry of message traffic and entries into the diaries of senior officers. To date, no credible records exist. The Japanese were avid photographers, and many Saipan witnesses averred that they saw photographs of Earhart displayed by Japanese soldiers—yet no such photograph survives.

Notwithstanding the excellence with which Campbell has penned this exposé, I’m chagrined at his arrogant dismissal of all other scenarios that explain Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. In one instance, Campbell gives short shrift to Commander Warner K. Thompson’s 106-page report that was highly critical of Earhart’s piloting skills and decried her radio-technique ineptness. Forthrightly, Commander Thompson, captain of the USS Itasca, blames Amelia Earhart’s serial incompetence for her demise. Also, Campbell tends to reject evidence that counters his rock-solid dogma. Simply put, his singlemindedness in castigating the apostates with scandalous rhetoric and schoolboy name-calling denigrates in large measure his professional standing.

Campbell conducted only marginal original research. Rather, he has relied on secondary sources. He acknowledges missives and oral commentary from Bill Prymak, Thomas Devine, and Jim Golden. His three key publication sources were:

  • Fred Goerner, The Search for Amelia Earhart
  • Thomas E. Devine, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident
  • Vincent V. Loomis, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story

 As the thorough author Campbell is, he includes numerous photographs; Fred Goerner’s “Island Witness List”; a declassified COMNAVMARIANAS radio message to CNO, Subject: Amelia Earhart; a Selected Bibliography including reports and other documents, magazine, newspaper, and blog articles; and an Index.

Campbell writes with deft skills and unbridled passion in this seminal work. His narrative is infectious—a page-turner par excellence. His coherent assembly of the relevant material reflects incredible organizational skills and true dedication to his conviction.

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Book Review: The Wright Brothers

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Rating – Five Stars

The Wright Brothers is an outstanding book. McCullough narrates an insightful, compelling, and empathetic account of Wilbur and Orville Wright—brothers and the inventors of the airplane (a manned craft that under its own power could take off, make turns, and return to its starting point without any assistance from the ground or air).

The Wrights’s invention of the airplane was not a fluke. Rather, the brothers were studious and careful inventors who assiduously followed the engineering principles of research, development, testing, and evaluation. Starting in 1899 in a room above their bicycle shop, the brothers built their first aircraft—a flying kite with a five-foot wingspan and their ingenious wing warping design that could turn the aircraft. Following were a series of large kites, unmanned and manned gliders

In 1902, they moved their flight test operations from Dayton to the outer banks of North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk. After numerous glider test flights and meticulous engineering, the brothers crafted the Wright Flyer I—the first self-powered airplane.

Finally, at 1035 hours, Thursday, 17 December 1903, Orville flew the Wright Flyer I about 120 feet and was airborne for twelve seconds. Later that day, Wilbur flew the Flyer 175 feet. At day’s end, the record flight was 852 feet in 59 seconds—about 10 miles per hour.

Following was a veritable cascade of awards, accolades, and honors for the brothers. France and Germany were particularly interested in their airplane and invited the brothers to demonstrate manned flight in their countries. Wilbur sailed to France and during his eighteen-month stay flew his Wright Flyer III to the amazement of massive crowds and government officials.  The French awarded the Wrights a contract and Wilbur left the Flyer in Le Harve.

On September 1909, Orville was demonstrating a Wright Flyer to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia.  Onboard was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge—the Army’s aviation specialist. Cruising at 40 miles per hour and about 75 feet, Orville guided the Flyer in several “neat” turns. On the fourth turn, part of the propeller broke away. Uncontrolled, the Flyer crashed—killing Selfridge and seriously injuring Orville.

I highly recommend this remarkable biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

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Early Leica Cameras

Ernst Leitz GmbH, Wetzlar produced their first Leica camera in 1913.  In 1925 Leitz introduced  the Leica model 1A and continued its production until 1930.  The model 1A was the first mass produced 35mm camera of high quality.  Following were a series of several dozen cameras with constantly improving functions and reliability.  Introduced in 1933, the Leica models IIIE and IIIF were the first cameras with the coupled range-finder.  These models were equipped with a 50mm , f3.5, Wollensak Velostigmat lens.

 

Leica Model IIIF

Leica Model IIIF

 

In the years that followed, Leica constantly improved the design and function of their cameras—becoming the premier camera manufacturer in the world.  Leica introduced perhaps seventy-five different models including digital types to present day.  Some of the early Leica cameras have significant collector value: rarity and condition being the primary factors in price paid.

In an important scene in my historical novel St. Catherine’s Crown, watch the photojournalist use his Leica, model IIIF to photograph the sensuous femme fatale, who shows more leg than is prudent in 1933.

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