S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “US Navy”

Book Review – Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 9.14.04 AM.png

Rating – Three Stars

As usual, my simple mind is confused. I do not know what to make of this book. It’s not a history of naval aviation in World War II, and it’s not a personal memorial to all the lost fliers “that did not return” to their aircraft carriers. It is a salmagundi of stories of naval aviators mostly dying. It’s a compendium of personal insights into naval aviators—officers and enlisted men that did not return—mostly.

Aside: Bradley’s use of “boys” throughout the text is an abomination and insult to the men of naval aviation who fought the good fight in the Pacific Campaign—many of whom did not return. I was in naval aviation for my entire career in the United States Navy. Prejudice against such disrespect is entrenched in me.

Also, to my amazement, Bradley fashioned the Japanese soldiers as “boys.” They were men.

Bradley rants pointedly about the USA’s eeevil colonialism in the Philippines and the diabolical war we waged on the populace—the slaughter of innocent civilians, internment camps, and the scorched-earth policy. I wonder what this screed contributed to Flyboys—perhaps only that war is Hell.

His detailed account of the Doolittle Raiders’ bombing of Japan on 18 April 1942 is compelling.

Bradley gets credit for his excellent research. His exposition of the Japanese army’s  training, discipline, and inexorable top-down chain of command is keenly informative and explains, in large measure, the inability of the on-scene commanders and their subordinates to make any decision of import without approval from the senior military clique in Tokyo—the “Spirit Warriors.” Of particular note is his explanation of their total disregard for the lives of their men. They sent soldiers to isolated islands. Their orders were to kill the American devils and to die for the Emperor. Surrender or failure to die was dishonorable and brought shame to their families. It was the Bushido code updated for the Pacific War.

Here’s one example. Japanese high command sent 130,000 troops to the island of New Guinea. After our navy’s victory in the battle of the Bismarck Sea, the Japanese soldiers were trapped. No supplies could reach them and there was no escape. The high command lacked concern—it was the vagaries of war and these men would die an honorable death. Nonetheless, the soldiers fought the Australian and American forces until almost all of the Japanese were dead—either killed or dead of disease and starvation. It’s in this story that Bradley tells us how the starving Japanese soldiers killed their own to keep from starving to death.

Bradley’s writing style is easy, fluid, and empathetic. And, that’s part of the problem with his book—it’s too empathetic, too vivid. We become immersed in his stories—we are at the location witnessing the details of the hideous torture, barbaric assassination, and gruesome cannibalism of our naval aviators. We attend the Japanese officers’ dining table to share the thigh of an enlisted gunner’s mate. Naturally, the reigning general has first pick.

Flyboys is a book suffused with death, torture, and cannibalism. I reckon that these horrors happened, but Bradley doesn’t have to be so dammed graphic about the details. This is not a book for the squeamish, the prudish, or the honorable warrior—in fact, I feel it’s a book solely for the Judge Advocate Generals.

My heart is greatly troubled by Bradley’s narrative. I regret having read his book. I’ve not slept well these past few nights. His images are too powerful. Flyboys is too personal, too engaging. I don’t want to witness the ignominious fate of my shipmates.  

Note: Many of these Japanese criminals were convicted of crimes and hung from the gallows.

Read more by S. Martin Shelton!

Book Review: Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris

five_came_backMark Harris weaves an intriguing story of five top-notch motion-picture directors that abandoned their careers in Hollywood and joined the military to help win World War II by producing documentary, propaganda, and information films.  He has integrated numerous moving parts into a coherent tale with keen interest. It’s a heavy book that deserves a careful read. Loaded with key information, and a comprehensive index, Five Came Back is essential for the cineaste, WWII aficionados, and those of my generation who recall the great films of these five directors and the details of the war.  After the read, this book goes into one’s library as a great reference book re Hollywood and the War effort.  The directors are:

Director Spreadsheet

I have two concerns.  First Harris changes gears all too often without a transition.  For instance, in one paragraph he writes about one director and in the following chapter he talks about another director and there is no apparent relationship between these two chapters.  Nonetheless, a linear structure where he would discuss one director a time would be a disaster.  Often times there were relationships between two of the directors.  Secondly, I’ve spotted eight technical errors.  The list is at the end of this review—some significant, others nit picks.

The Office of War Information and General George C. Washington tasked Major Frank Capra to produce a series of film to inform our soldiers and civilians about the righteous of our involvement in the war.  He fought army bureaucracy for most of the war to produce and distribute the Why We Fight series of seven films.  The first picture in this series of documentary films, Prelude to War earned the Academy Award in 1942.  By the war’s end, all seven films were released.

 

whywefight

The army tasked (then) Lieutenant Colonel Frank Capra, to coordinate all army combat photographic efforts.  Accordingly, he commuted between Washington, DC and London through the War.

In discussing the power of propaganda films and the value of realism Capra said, “No war documentary can be made with absolute integrity and truth.”  Capra supporting John Houston’s staging and restaging the battle scenes in the The Battle of San Pietro. Capra’s comments reflected his understanding of the documentary film movement.  John Grierson, father of the documentary film, averred that the documentary film is a restaging of reality.  Eric Ambler (English novelist) commented on the staged battle scenes of San Pietro, “That nothing but falsification would be of any use, or even possible.” He reinforced his countryman’s philosophy re the documentary film.

In May 1945 the war in Europe was over: Capra was discharged, and General George C. Marshall pinned the Distinguished Service Medal on his blouse.

John Huston had conceived, staged, and restaged almost the entire film The Battle of San Pietro.  Houston, perhaps overprotective of his cameramen, was reluctant to have them in danger on the front lines.  Accordingly, he convinced the Army to supply the men and equipment he needed to produce this film.  It was a reasonably faithful reproduction of the actual battle.  Harris says that, “Houston would do most anything that would fit the army’s propaganda needs.”  Several years later, Houston would haggle with the Army to release his film Let There be Light.  This film dealt with the psychological problems of the returning serviceman.  The Army thought it to be too negative and reflect poorly on the soldier,

 

san pietro

Lieutenant Commander John Ford, a naval reservist, was called to active duty shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Tipped about the coming battle at Midway, he and his combat cameramen (mostly from Hollywood) deployed to the island.  During the battle, Ford documented some of the fiercest action with his handheld, 16mm camera.  His footage of the battle was captured totally impromptu.  Ford was filming the battle while standing near the Midway power house. He was wounded slightly in the arm when a Japanese bomb exploded near power house.  He assembled the raw footage and with keen filmic design techniques  produced the Academy award-wining film (1942), Battle of Midway.

Battle_of_Midway_(1942_documentary)_intro2

Ford was present at Omaha Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944) directing Coast Guard cameramen. No motion picture was made of the footage.  In a 1964 interview, Ford explained that the U.S. Government was “afraid to show so many American casualties on the screen.” At war’s end the navy awarded John Ford the Legion of Merit.  He remained in the Naval Reserve and the Navy promoted him to Rear Admiral in 1952 when he retired.

Ford’s relationship with the Office of Strategic Services (Forerunner of the CIA) and the Navy is unclear.  He seemed to be serving two masters.  What was the purpose of this dual chain-of-command?  Early on he said, “I am in command of the field photographic branch of the Office of Strategic Services.”  And, why was the OSS producing documentary film?

John Ford had contempt for actor John Wayne because Wayne had broken one vague comment after another to join the Armed Forces.  Wayne never joined.  I reckon they reconciled after the war:  they collaborated on a number of films, such as The Searchers.

Harris weaves an intriguing tale of William Wyler’s producing and directing the groundbreaking film The Memphis Belle—probably the “best” documentary film for the war.  Actually, it is a composite of several Eight Air Force, Boeing B-17 missions over Germany.  It’s suffused with real-time combat photography that is thrilling, chilling, and engrossing—much shot by Wyler.  It’s the story of the crews twenty-fifth mission—this time over the submarine pens at Wilhelmshaven.  On return, the Queen of England greets the crew, medals awarded, and their commanding officer reads their orders to return to homeland to train bomber crews for future raids on Germany.  What the film fails to discuss is the appalling loss rate of our B-17 and B-24 bombers: German interceptor aircraft, anti-aircraft “flack,” and foul weather took a terrible toll.  On average, the loss rate per raid was about fifteen percent.  Over Schweinfurt, the loss rate was fifty-percent.

memphis-belle

George Stevens joined the Army Signal Corps. His personal use of film cameras to document the historic event in Europe is one of the most interesting tales in this book.  For example, the scenes that Harris that tells about Stevens shooting film and directing his combat cameramen at Omaha Beach on “D Day,” the push through the hedge rows of Normandy, the Liberation of Paris, Stevens’ using a film camera to documented the army’s advance through France and Germany; and the liberation of the notorious concentration camp Dachau.  The horror of the scene at Dachau, affected Stevens deeply for the rest of his life.   On his discharge from the Army he was awarded he Legion of Merit.

george_stevens_dday_to_berlin

The five directors resumed their careers after the war: some more successful than others.  Their experiences in the war inscribed deep emotional scars that were harder for some to overcome than others were.  Nonetheless, all resumed successful careers in the fast-changing Hollywood environment.

Here are the errors I’ve spotted.

  • Calls the USSR “Russia” in Frank Capra’s trip in 1935.
  • Incorrectly refers to the 1935-1936 Second Italian-Ethiopian War as starting in 1933.
  • States that Newfoundland in 1943 was part of Canada.  No so.  At that time, Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire—not a part of Canada.
  • He says, “The Navy was still putting the crew (of the Boeing B-17 bomber dubbed “Memphis Bell”) through its paces…”  The crew of the “Memphis Bell” were in the Army Air Corps—not the Navy.
  • Notes that “The Americans, who were then pouring all of their manpower into the war in the Pacific.”  Not so.  President Roosevelt and Five-star General George Marshall, General of the Army, had decided that their first priority was to defeat Nazi Germany in EuropeThe Pacific war was clearly secondary.
  • Discussing the film The Negro Soldier–the telling of the black soldiers’ participation in the war—he notes that the army soldiers were dancing with the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Emergency Service).  I suspect that he meant to write “WAC” (Woman’s Army Corps).
  • In the scene in which Harris discusses the capture of the Ludendorff, single-track railroad bridge across the Rhine River, he states, “…the allies captured three bridges (across the Rhine).  Actually, Hitler ordered all bridges across the Rhine destroyed and all were except the bridge at Remagen.  It was the lone bridge still standing across the Rhine. Elements of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion captured this bridge intact on the 8th of March 1945, and soon General George Patton’s tanks were on the east side of the river and Berlin was his target.
  • Discussing William Wyler’s 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, Harris pens that the character Fred Derry (played by Dana Andrews) walks among “…an airfield of now useless fighter planes.”  Actually, Fred is in the aircraft bone-yard for the Boeing B-17 bombers.

FIN

Malaysia Flight 370 New Information?

Perhaps, maybe, possibly, if the “kreek don’t rise,” the searchers might have enough apocryphal evidence to conclude tentatively that Flight 370 is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.  Searchers estimate is position is located within 16,000 square nautical miles.  This center of this area is about 1,500 nautical miles west of Perth “down under.”

Last Thursday (10 April), the US Navy’s TPL-25 (Towed Ping Locator) device, towed by the Royal Australian Navy ship Ocean Shield, detected two black-box type ping signals.  That is the last signal reception made that has any credibility, however slight.  For example, last Thursday a Royal Australian Air Force Orion P3 aircraft detected ping type signals from one of it dropped sonar buoys.  However, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston said that scientific analysis of the signals confirmed that they were not black-box type.

Flight 370 has been missing since 8 March—thirty-five days ago.  The battery powering the black box is either exhausted or nearly so.    U S Navy Captain Mark Mathews, on- site coordinator of Navy equipment, said that if they do not receive any more credible ping signals within the next two days, they will abandon using acoustic search equipment.  Then they’ll use the Navy’s Bluefin-21, an underwater towed autonomous vehicle that maps the ocean floor.  It can map about twelve square nautical miles a day. Accordingly, it will take the Bluefin vehicle 1,333 days to map this area—all factors considered.

On Saturday, Saturday 12 April, ten aircraft and fourteen ships are searching for the missing flight 370.  Significantly, we’ve had no report from the Chinese ship Haixum 01 since 4 April.

Malaysian Flight #370…What Next?

This is the 38th day of the search Malaysia Flight 370.  Yesterday, eleven aircraft and “about” as many ships were searching in an area about 24,000 square-miles: In an area located about 1,400 miles northwest of Perth.  (The search area seems to change almost daily.)  Here’s the update: the searchers have not heard any pings from the Flight 370’s black box for six days.  They’ve concluded that the black box’s battery is dead.  Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, head of the search effort, noted that acoustic searching is terminated, and that because they have no visual clues he’ll terminate visual search efforts in the next few days.

Yesterday, sailors on the Australian ship Ocean Shield launched the US Navy’s Bluefin-21, an underwater towed autonomous vehicle that maps the ocean floor.   It takes twenty-four hours to complete a Bluefin-21 mission: two hours to descend to the Ocean’s floor, sixteen hours to map, and two hours to ascend; then it takes four hours to download the information, and I cannot estimate how long it takes to interpret and plot the data.

About six hours into its first mission, controllers maneuvered the Bluefin-21 to exceed its maximum safe depth, about 14.800-feet deep (2.8 miles), and they terminated the mission.  (How about telling us why.)   The Bluefin-21 was returned to the surface.  As of this afternoon, there is no information regarding the next Bluefin-21 operation—if any.   What’s next?

I did find an article in which Houston noted that HMS Echo has equipment that can help map the seafloor and is in route to the search area,   He did not give an estimated time of arrival or what is the operations plan.

Read More

Malaysian Flight 370, Number Two

Twenty-three days ago, Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared.  At first, aircraft and ships from several neighborhood countries and the United States searched for the Boeing 777 in the area northeast of Malaysia in the South China Sea—the proposed track for this flight—to no avail.  Based on technical date, the searchers changed directions to the west and examined the Bay of Bengal—nothing found.

Two weeks ago Chinese satellite imagery photographed a debris field (of unknown composition) in the south Indian Ocean about 1,800 miles southwest of Perth, Australia. Search assets from twenty-five countries reconnoiter this area.  Zero results.

Early last week French satellite imagery found a large debris field about 1,200 miles west of Perth that may/or maybe not be the remains of the Boeing 777.  As of noon today there is nothing positive to report.

Only when some debris is found, hauled aboard a ship, and researchers confirm that it is from Flight 370, can the solution of the mystery, begin.

The next step in this imbroglio is to find the aircraft’s “black box” (actually, it’s an orange box).  This black box is a battery-powered, waterproof, electronic device that records all radio communications, flight-crew intercommunications, and technical data: speed, course, altitude, and other flight details.   After activation by a crash, it will “squawk” a locator signal for about thirty-days.  To insure best chance for survival this black box is stored in the tail of the aircraft.  All factors considered, it’s the tail section this is most likely to survive a crash.

Now the search gets even more daunting.  Let’s suppose that the debris is in fact from the Boeing 777, Malaysia Flight 370.  Where is the aircraft?  For an absolute certainly, it’s not below the debris field—guaranteed.  This area of the south Indian Ocean is fraught with high winds, and strong and irregular currents that are unabated.  Since mariners that have sailed this sea, they have dubbed it “The roaring 40’s.”  The “40’s” relates to its southern forty-degree latitude.  Oceanographers, meteorologists, and other scientist/technicians will use a host of data, some of which is apocryphal, and computer modeling to calculate a best estimate location of the aircraft on the sea floor—a backtracking analysis.  We’ve seven days left before the black box’s battery expires.

Cover

Retired Naval Captain, S. Martin Shelton, has tracked the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s flight and written a story based upon the facts of the flight and aviator.

Post Navigation