In this episode we’re looking at the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Returning from delivering the atomic bomb to Tinian, in preparation for it to be dropped, the Indianapolis was hit twice by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. She sank in less than a quarter of an hour.
800-900 men went in the shark infested waters, and no one in the US Navy was aware of the unfolding tragedy. The men floated in small groups for five nights and four days before they were finally spotted by the passing US plane.
And that is just half the story.
I’m joined by Sara Vladic.
Sara is the director of the documentary USS Indianapolis: The Legacy, she’s also so-written a book looking at the events surrounding the sinking, the book is titled Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man. It is quite a story!
In the last episode we looked at the development of the world’s navies during the interwar period. To compliment that I thought we’d do something similar with aerial warfare. It is easy to forget in 1939 aviation was still very much in its infancy, and especially aerial warfare.
Theorist such as Giulio Douhethad highlighted the importance of controlling airspace, Douhet also advocated that idea that a nation could bomb its way to victory. Other countries such as Germany envisaged the plane in tactical roles, supporting the army. So at the outbreak of WWII each air force was prepared to a fight a war, just not necessarily the war their enemy was expecting to fight.
Joining me today is Frank Ledwidge.
Frank is a senior fellow in Air Power and International Security, at the Royal Air Force College - Cranwell. Not only does he teach this stuff, he’s written a book on the subject ‘Aerial Warfare: The Battle for the Skies’.
Today what I thought we’d investigate the interwar naval treaties which aimed to prevent conflict, but at the same time, what they did was help shape the navies of the world, in the run up to WWII.
In this episode I’m talking to Craig Symonds. Craig is the Enest J King Distinguished Professor of Maritime History a the US Naval War College and Professor Emeritus at the US Naval College.
Hitler when he came to power, had few international connections, and he distrusted elements of his civil service. What he needed was people he could trust, who were connected to the highest echelons of power throughout Europe. These emissaries would be used to sound out opinion, and smooth over incidents when they happened.
And that is what we’re looking at in this episode, those ‘back channels’, the aristocratic go betweens that Hitler employed.
Joining me is Karina Urbach.
Karina is currently working at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, her book Go 'Betweens for Hitler'was published in 2015.
Joining me today is Max Thimmig, Max’s grandfather was the German WWII night fighter ace, Wolfgang Thimmig. Wolfgang joined the German Army, the Reichswehr, in 1934, and was one of the early pilots in Hitler’s newly created Luftwaffe, in 1935.
Incredibly Wolfgang flew with the Luftwaffe throughout the second world war, from Poland right to the end in 1945.
Max's book is Nattens jägare: Ett tyskt nattjaktess under andra världskriget.
The P-61 was built in response to the Blitz on Great Britain, in 1940. The RAF were in need of a night fighter and they confirmed with their US counterparts on the specifications. The result was a twin tail plane with a crew of three, it was specifically designed to house a radar to zero the aircraft in, at night on their target.
Only four now survive.
Joining me is Russell Strine from the Mid Atlantic Air Museum, who are currently restoring one, the intention is to get it in the air once more.
It’s thanks to Alex Lowmaster for this episode, he tipped me off to a museum local to him, in Pennsylvania, that were restoring a P-61 Black Widow night fighter.
This episode, is released just after the 75th anniversary of the escape of ten American prisoners of war, and two Filipino convicts, from the Davao Penal Colony. The following year when the story broke, the US War Department would call it the ‘greatest story of the war’. The man made famous at the time for escaping, and recounting the story, was Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess. A fighter pilot who not only fought in the air, but during the defence of Bataan led and amphibious assault as an infantryman.
Joining me to tell us the story of ‘Ed Dyess’ is John Lukacs, who is fighting to get Dyess awarded the Medal of Honor; and keeping his memory alive with the website 4-4-43.com.
If you remember back in episode 45, I discussed the Barton Brothers with Sally Mott Freeman, Dyess’s story intersects with that as Barton was at the Davao Penal Colony and his brother Bill was in Washington aware of Dyess’s escape.
One of my first guests was Jeffrey Cox, we discussed in length the Java Sea campaign in episode 14.
Jeff has been busy for the last couple of years writing his follow up book Morning Star, Midnight Sun – The Early Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign of World War Two. So I asked Jeff back to discuss the campaign.
Jeff and I talked for nearly three hours, so whilst the podcast is trimmed to keep us on message if you want some more why not become a patron and have another 30min of us talking what he's unto next and torpedos!
In episode 57 I talked to Walter Zapotoczny about Ardennes Offensive, chatting with him it told me had had a new book out in 2018 looking at German Penal Battalions. That sounded like a topic right up my street so I got him back to talk with us.
When war broke out in 1939, Hitler created `Strafbattalion' (Penal Battalion) units to deal with incarcerated members of the Wehrmacht as well as `subversives'. His order stated that any first-time convicted soldier could return to his unit after he had served a portion of his sentence in `a special probation corps before the enemy'.
In this episode we’re going to be discussing the plight of 168 Allied Airmen who found themselves imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp. It’s something that even to this day governments seem unwilling to admit to.
“As we got close to the camp and saw what was inside... a terrible, terrible fear and horror entered our hearts. We thought, what is this? Where are we going? Why are we here? And as you got closer to the camp and started to enter [it] and saw these human skeletons walking around; old men, young men, boys, just skin and bone, we thought, what are we getting into?” — Canadian airman Ed Carter-Edward's recollection of his arrival at Buchenwald.
Joining me is Frederic Martini, his father was shot down over France in 1944 and was one of the Buchenwald airmen. His written about his father’s experiences, the book is Betrayed.
If Slim’s 14th army was the ‘Forgotten Army’ the RAF bombing campaign in the Far East is even more forgotten!
In this episode I'm talking to Matt Poole.
Matt's mother is from Liverpool, her first husband was in the RAF serving in Burma when he was shot down over Rangoon. In trying to find out what happened that night Matt was introduced to Bill Kirkness who served in the same squadron.
Bill had written a memoir of his wartime experience, though he's sadly now passed away Matt has edited the manuscript into RAF Liberators over Burma: Flying with 159 Squadron.
We discuss Bill Kirkness's war, the RAF in Burma and Matt's journey of piercing the story together
When I plan the podcast episodes I don’t usually sit down and look at the subject and how it relates to those episodes around it, hence we’ve often found ourselves in the pacific in quick succession.
In this instance it seems serendipitous that we’re going from looking at the fall of France, in the last episode, to looking at the experiences of German fighter pilots in Europe. The two topics compliment one another rather well.
Joining me is Patrick Eriksson.
Patrick is the author of Alarmstart: The German Fighter Pilot’s Experience in the Second World War. Since the 1970’s Patrick has been an associate member of the German Air Force Veterans Association interviewing and corresponding with former members of the Luftwaffe.
In this episode I’m looking at ‘Case Red’ the German attack on France post Dunkirk. Often when we talk about the Battle of France the history seems to stop at Dunkirk, in actual fact the fight carried on for a few more weeks. There was still British 100,000+ troops in France, Churchill was keen to keep the French fighting…
Joining in me is Robert Forczyk, if you recall last year we discussed Operation Sealion with Bob. He’s been beavering away and has a new book out, ‘Case Red: The collapse of France’. Its a real eye opener…
In this episode we’ll be looking at two British soldiers in occupied Burma.
Major Hugh Seagrim operated for two years behind the Japanese lines, organising Karen resistance before he was eventually forced to surrender. Seagrim crosses paths with Roy Pagani, trying to make his way back to British army in India, after escaping as a POW working on the Burma railway. Pagani is a remarkable man he had already escaped from Dunkirk in 1940, and Singapore when it fell in 1942.
Joining me today is Phillip Davis.
Phillip is the author of Lost Warriors, Seagrim and Pagani of Burma The last great untold story of WWII.
This episode is being released on the 15th of December, the eve of the Battle of the Bulge. It was the 16th of December 1944 that Hitler launched Operation Watch on the Rhine, the last great offensive in the West.
Joining me today is Walter Zapotoczny, author of The 110th Hold In The Ardennes: The Blunting of Hitler’s Last Gamble and the Invasion of the Reich.The 110th Infantry Regiment were part of the 28th Division which bore the brunt of the German offensive in the first few days.
The Battle of the Bulge has always held a fascination for me, I’ve very clear memories of cold wintery afternoons watching the 1965 film on the TV. Though even as a kid I thought the Telly Savalas character was nonsense!
In the classic narrative, the second world war starts with the invasion of Poland in 1939, though for the Chinese it started with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
I notice wikipedia solves the start date by stating ‘relate conflicts started earlier’, and that is what we’ll be looking at today the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and those foreigners who volunteered to fight for Haile Selassie.
I’m joined by Christopher Othen
Christopher is the author of the Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion.
I’ve been promising you an extra episode since September... Well it never came off, I was all prepared to discuss the end of the war in the Pacific but I struggled to pin down the guest so I gave up!
But good things come to those that wait!
I was asked if I might be interested in having a chat with the writer of the new WW2 film Darkest Hour, Anthony McCarten. How could I say no?
If you would like some background listening I looked at Churchill during this period in episode 8, Churchill's decision to fight in 1940.
Within a year of Belgium falling to the Germans in 1940, Belgian citizens were volunteering to join the Waffen SS to fight communism on the newly formed Eastern Front. Thousands volunteered, and the suffered heavy casualties.
I’m joined by Jonathan Trigg author of Voices of the Flemish Waffen SS. He has been gathering the stories of these men and women. What remarkable stories they are, I devoured the book in just two evenings…
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Pacific this year, I didn’t intend to but as its a theatre of the war I’m not very familiar with I’ve been happy to be pulled down that route.
One topic we’ve skirted round in a number of episodes is the Bataan Death March, its been a topic I’ve been keen to look at as we’ve mentioned it a few times. Plus it’s seems like an obvious gap in my knowledge I needed to fill.
I’m joined by Jay Wertz.
Jay has authored a number of books in the War Stories: World War II Firsthand series, for these he collected eyewitness accounts. He is also the author and historical consultant for World War II Comix. These are not the jingoistic “Commando” comics I grew up with in the 1970 & 80s (is there a world wide equivalent?), Word War II Comix tells the story of the war in a straight factual manner, but in comic form. They’re a great way to get kids reading about the war.
The latest issue looks at the battle of Midway, previous issues tell the story of the fighting on Bataan and Pearl Harbour.
Last year I talked to Greg Lewis about the female agents in the British Special Operations Executive, SOE, who Churchill had tasked with “setting Europe ablaze”. In this episode we’ll be looking specifically at Diana Rowden who was flown into France in 1943.
Diana spent her early years in the South of France before being sent to Public School in England. At the outbreak of war Diana was living in Paris with her mother. When Paris fell they fled south, but once her mother was safely on a boat back to England, Diana decided to remain in France. For over a year she moved through France avoiding being picked up by the Germans, when it got to "hot" she fled back to Britain.
When she finally became know to SOE she was an obvious fit for an agent to be sent to France. It was a huge risk and only a matter of time before she was picked up, which indeed she was. With four other women she was murdered at Natzweiler Concentration Camp in July 1944. She was 29 years of age.
I’m joined by Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell.
Gabrielle’s book Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden, Wartime Secret Agent takes the reader through Dianna’s life”.
I didn't realise when I started chatting to Gabrielle but she is married to Geoffrey Rothwell, he flew over 70 missions before being shot down. For patrons and supporters of the podcast I've made available a quick conversation I had with Gabrielle about her husband.
Between 1943-45 Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5 “Atlantik” would fly missions of up to 18 hours at a time over the Atlantic. They acted as the eyes for the U-Boats. Equipped with big, four-engined Junkers Ju 290s fitted out with advanced search radar and other maritime 'ELINT' (electronic intelligence) devices, Fernaufklärungsgruppe (FAGr) 5 'Atlantik' undertook a distant, isolated campaign far out into the Atlantic and thousands of miles away from its home base in western France.
I'm joined by Robert Forsyth author of Shadow over the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe and the U-boats: 1943–45.
Robert is an author, editor and publisher, specialising in military aviation and military history. Born in Berkshire, England, he is the author of several books on the aircraft and units of the Luftwaffe, an interest he has held since boyhood. His articles have appeared in The Aviation Historian, Aeroplane Monthly, Aviation News and FlyPast and he is a member of the Editorial Board of The Aviation Historian. Long-term, he is working on a major biography of the Luftwaffe commander, Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen.
I was reading the British Journal for Military History and an article caught my eye titled The Psychological Impact of Airborne Warfare & the British Response to the Airborne Threat by Dr Tim Jenkins.
In 1940 the Germans achieved stunning successes with the use of airborne troops, the Fallschirmjäger. The first recorded attack by parachutists was in Denmark against the fortress at Masnedø. The reputed impregnable fortress at Eben Emael in Belgium would surrender to just 78 German airborne troops who had landed on top in Gliders.
Traditionally Britain was safe beyond the English Channel, protected by the Royal Navy, this new threat from the air caught the public imagination. There was a clamour in the press, questions were raised in Parliament... What to do?
The result would be thousands of sign posts removed to confuse enemy parachutists, golf course would be ploughed up to prevent glider landings and of course the Home Guard would be formed.
It’s a brilliant article and I suggest you give it a read, you can find it here. Tim agreed to come on the podcast and have a chat.
In this episode I’m looking at Operation Tonga, the British airborne element that led the way during the D-Day landings in 1944.
I’m joined by Stephen Wright.
Stephen is keenly interested in the operation, an operation his uncle was killed taking part in. For the last twenty years he’s been researching the airborne, and particularly the use of Gliders during the closing years of the war.
His book, co-authored with Bill Shannon, Operation Tonga brings to the reader first hand accounts of that night. Stephen is also involved with a new feature film True Valour, you can follow its progress here on Facebook and for more information the website is truevalourmovie.com.
In this episode we’re looking at high ranking British POWs held by the Italians and their attempts at escape. The middle east was considered an Italian theatre, rather than prisoners be shipped to Germany high ranking officers such as Generals Richard O’Connor, Phillip Neame, Adrian Carton de Wiart or Air Marshal Owen Boyd were placed into Italian custody as POWs. Neither rank or age deterred their determination to escape
In this episode I’m looking at the giant soviet T-35 tank with Francis Pulham. As you will discover the T-35 was a peculiar vehicle with five turrets, very few were ever produced and almost all were knocked out very early in the war.
Francis is the author of Fallen Giants, The Combat Debut of the T-35a tank.
"The T-35 was a Soviet multi-turreted heavy tank of the interwar period and early Second World War that saw limited production and service with the Red Army. It was the only five-turreted heavy tank in the world to reach production, but proved to be slow and mechanically unreliable. Most of the T-35 tanks still operational at the time of Operation Barbarossa were lost due to mechanical failure rather than enemy action.
Outwardly, it was large; but internally, the spaces were cramped with the fighting compartments separated from each other. Some of the turrets obscured the entrance hatches." wikipedia