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Subject Index: Second World War Articles from 2016
Updates from: Current • 2017 • 2016 • 2015 • 2014 • 2013 • 2012 • 2011 • 2010 • 2009 • 2008 • 2007
Articles from 2016
29 December 2016
The Medium Tank M4A3(105) was a version of the Sherman tank armed with a 105mm howitzer and that used the US Army's preferred Ford GAA V-8 engine.
The Assault Tank T14 was a more heavily armoured version of the Sherman, designed to lead attacks.
23 December 2016
USS Craven (DD-70) was a Caldwell class destroyer that entered service too late for the First World War, but entered Royal Navy service as HMS Lewes in 1940, serving in British Home Waters, from South Africa and in the Far East.
19 December 2016
The Medium Tank M4E5 was the designation given to two pilot vehicles for the 105mm armed version of the M4 Sherman.
The Medium Tank M4 (105) was a version of the Sherman tank that carried a 105mm howitzer, and was powered by the Wright-Continental R975 engine.
8 December 2016
The Medium Tank M4A3(76)W HVSS was the first production version of the Sherman to use a Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension system, which improved both the ground pressure of the tank and made the suspension more reliable.
The Medium Tank M4A4E1 was the first prototype for the 105mm howitzer armed versions of the M4 Sherman.
28 November 2016
The Medium Tank M4A2(76)W combined the welded hull and General Motors engine of the earlier M4A2 with the new 76mm gun and wet shell storage introduced across the Sherman range in 1944.
The Medium Tank M4A3(76)W/ Sherman IVA was the US Army's preferred version of the tank, and combined the welded hull and Ford engine of the standard M4A3 with the new 76mm gun and wet shell storage system introduced during 1944.
18 November 2016
The Medium Tank M4(76)W was the designation given to a version of the M4 that would have been armed with a 76mm gun, but that was cancelled before any production vehicles were built.
The Medium Tank M4A1(76)W/ Sherman IIA was the first 76mm armed version of the Sherman to enter production, and had a cast hull, wet shell storage and a Continental R975 engine
11 November 2016
The Medium Tank M4A1 (76M1) was the first attempt to fit a more powerful gun in the Sherman tank, but was abandoned after objections by the Armored Force.
The Medium Tank M4E6 was the second attempt to install a 76mm gun on a Sherman tank, and saw the introduction of a number of features that made their way into production tanks.
27 October 2016
The Medium Tank M4A2E1 was a version of the Sherman tank that was powered by a General Motors engine developed from a marine diesel engine.
The Medium Tank M4E3 was an experimental version of the Sherman that was powered by a Chrysler A65 engine.
13 October 2016
The Medium Tank M4E1 was an experimental version of the Sherman that used a diesel version of the Wright G200 Cyclone air-cooled radial engine.
The Medium Tank M4A6 was the final production version of the Sherman, and used the composite hull introduced late in the production of the M4 and a modified version of the Wright Cyclone engine that could use diesel fuel.
5 October 2016
The Medium Tank M4A3/ Sherman IV had a welded hull and Ford V-8 engine, and was one of the main US service versions. It was also the version chosen for use after the end of the Second World War.
The Medium Tank M4A4/ Sherman V had a welded hull and used the Chrysler multibank engine. The engine was rejected for use by the US Army, but proved to be very reliable in Britain, where over 7,000 tanks were received
16 September 2016
The Medium Tank M4A1/ Sherman II was the second version of the Medium Tank M4 to be standardized but the first to enter production. It combined a cast upper hull and a Wright radial engine, and was used by US and UK forces.
The Medium Tank M4A2/ Sherman III was the third version of the tank to be standardized, but the second to enter production. It used the welded hull of the M4 and a General Motors diesel engine, and was mainly used for Lend Lease, with most going to the UK and others to the Soviet Union.
2 September 2016
The 372nd Fighter Group was a home based training unit that served with the Fourth and Third Air Forces.
The 373rd Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force and took part in the D-Day invasion, the advance across France, the battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
The 402nd Fighter Group went through two incarnations during the Second World War, first as a medium bomber formation in China and then as a home based fighter training unit.
1 September 2016
The Medium Tank T6 was the prototype for the Medium Tank M4 Sherman, the most important American tank of the Second World War.
The Medium Tank M4 was the first version of the M4 Sherman to be standardized, but only the third to enter production. It used a welded hull and Wright R-975 air cooled radial engine, and was used by the United States and Britain.
23 August 2016
The Cruiser Tank, Ram Mk I, was a Canadian tank that combined the engine, transmission and running gear from the Medium Tank M3 with a new hull and its main gun carried in a turret.
The Cruiser Tank, Ram Mk II, was the definitive version of a medium tank based on the American M3, but produced in Canada and armed with a 6 pounder anti-tank gun in a cast turret.
11 August 2016
The Tank Recovery Vehicle M31 was based on the Medium Tank M3, and over 800 were produced in 1942-45.
The Prime Mover M33 was an artillery tractor based on the M31 Tank Recovery Vehicle, itself based on the Medium Tank M3.
28 July 2016
The Sentinel AC III was a version of the Australian Sentinel AC I cruiser tank, modified to carry a 25pdr howitzer.
The Sentinel AC IV was a version of the Australian Sentinel AC I cruiser tank, modified to carry a 17pdr high velocity anti tank gun.
25 July 2016
The 369th Fighter Group was a home based training unit that was active for two years from August 1943.
The 370th Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force and took part in the D-Day landings, the advance across France, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
The 371st Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force and took part in the D-Day invasion, the advance across France, the battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
19 July 2016
The Sentinel AC I cruiser tank was an Australian tank designed to help defend the country against a potential Japanese threat. Despite being a impressive technical achievement, the AC I entered production too late for its primary purpose, and instead was using as a training vehicle.
The Sentinel AC II was an Australian design for a cruiser tank that could be produced using existing truck engines and components.
4 July 2016
The Medium Tank M3A4 used a multi-bank Chrysler engine, designed to overcome a potential shortage of tank engines in 1941-42.
The Medium Tank M3A5 was the designation given to M3 medium tanks that combined the General Motors diesel engine with a riveted hull.
24 June 2016
The Medium Tank M3A2 was the first version of the tank to use a welded hull, but only a handful were built before production moved onto the M3A3.
The Medium Tank M3A3 was the main production version of the M3 to use a welded hull in place of the original riveted hull.
16 June 2016
The Medium Tank M3 was the main production version of the Medium Tank M3/ Grant/ Lee, and used a riveted hull and a Wright air-cooled radial engine. It was used in North Africa in 1942, but was then largely replaced by the M4 Sherman.
The Medium Tank M3A1 was the only version of the Medium Tank M3/ Grant/ Lee to use a cast upper hull.
10 June 2016
The Boeing C-75 was the military designation given to five Model 307 Stratoliners that were commandeered by the USAAF in 1942.
The Watanabe K8W1 Experimental 12-Shi Primary Seaplane Trainer was designed to replace the Yokosuka K4Y1 Type 90 Seaplane Trainer, but lost out to a Kawanishi design.
6 June 2016
The Medium Tank M2 was the first US medium tank to be produced in reasonable numbers, but was already obsolete by the time it entered production in 1939, and was soon replaced by the M3, itself seen as an interim design while work was completed on the M4 Sherman.
The Medium Tank M3/ Grant/ Lee was the first American medium tank to carry a 75mm gun, and played a significant part in the fighting in North Africa in 1942, but it was always seen as a interim design as its main gun was carried in the right of the hull, and it had been rushed into production to fill a gap before the arrival of the Medium Tank M4 Sherman.
27 May 2016
The Aichi H9A flying boat was the only dedicated flying boat trainer to be placed into production in significant numbers during the Second World War.
The Aichi S1A Denko (Bolt of Light) was a Japanese Navy night fighter that was at an advanced stage of development before US bombing destroyed the two prototypes, effectively ending the programme.
19 May 2016
The Aichi B7A Ryusei (Shooting Star) 'Grace' was a large torpedo bomber designed for use on a new generation of Japanese aircraft carriers, but that only saw limited service from land after the Japanese carrier fleet was destroyed.
The Aichi D1A Diver Bomber 'Susie' was a carrier dive-bomber based on the Heinkel He 66 that saw service with the Japanese Navy during the 1930s.
4 May 2016
The 366th Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force and took part in the D-Day invasion, the advance across France, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
The 367th Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force and took part on the D-Day invasion, the advance across France, the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
The 368th Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force and took part in the D-Day invasion, the siege of Cherbourg, the advance across France, the attack on Germany and the Battle of the Bulge.
4 April 2016
The 362nd Fighter Group (USAAF) served with the Ninth Air Force, and took part in the D-Day invasion, the advance across France, the battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
The 363rd Fighter Group/ 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group (USAAF) served with the Ninth Air Force, changing role half way thorough the campaign in north-western Europe.
The 365th Fighter Group served with the Ninth Air Force, taking part in the D-Day campaign, the advance across France, Operation Market Garden, the battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany.
31 March 2016
The Renault UE infantry vehicle was an armoured supply tractor produced to move supplies to the front line.
The Chenillette Lorraine, Type 37L was an armoured cargo carrier produced to support infantry tank units in the French Army.
21 March 2016
The Renault AMC 34 was a light tank designed to be more capable of combat than the earlier Renault AMR 33, with thicker armour and a more powerful main gun.
The Renault AMC 35 was an improved version of the AMC 34 light tank, with a modified suspension system and a more powerful main gun.
11 March 2016
The Somua S35 was one of the most advanced French tank designs of the 1930s, and performed well in 1940 although wasn't available in large enough numbers to make any different to the outcome of the campaign.
The Somua S40 was an improved version of the Somua S35 that was under development just before the Fall of France. The S40 used the same basic layout as the S35, but with a 220hp Diesel engine, a new form of suspension and a welded turret.
8 March 2016
The 357th Fighter Group (USAAF) served with the Eighth Air Force, flying a mix of bomber escort and ground attack missions as well as supporting the D-Day landings, the break out from Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine.
The 358th Fighter Group (USAAF) fought with the Eighth and then Ninth Air Forces, taking part in the D-Day invasion, and carrying out ground attack and fighter sweep missions as the Allies advanced across Europe.
The 360th Fighter Group (USAAF) was a home based training unit.
1 March 2016
The Renault AMR 33 was a light cavalry tank designed for cross-country reconnaissance duties. It was an interim model and was quickly followed into production by the improved Renault AMR 35.
The Renault AMR 35 was a more heavily armed version of the AMR 33 light cavalry tank, and could carry a range of guns from a 7.5mm machine gun to a 20mm cannon.
23 February 2016
The Char Léger Hotchkiss H35 was a light tank designed in the early 1930s, but that was underpowered and was replaced by the Hotchkiss H39.
The Char Léger Hotchkiss H39 was an improved version of the Hotchkiss H35 light tank, with a more powerful engine and slightly improved main gun.
17 February 2016
The 353rd Fighter Group (USAAF) served with the Eighth Air Force, providing bomber escorts, flying ground attack missions and protecting troop transports.
The 354th Fighter Group (USAAF) served with the Ninth Air Force from 1943 to the end of the Second World War, taking part in the D-Day campaign, the campaign in north-west Europe, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.
The 355th Fighter Group (USAAF) operated with the Eighth Air Force, flying bomber escort, fighter sweeps and ground attack missions.
10 February 2016
The Char Léger Renault R35 was the most numerous French infantry tank in 1940, but it was outclassed by most German tanks and was mainly used in infantry support units scattered along the entire front line.
The Char Léger FCM-36 was the first diesel powered tank produced in France, but only 100 were built due to the high cost of production.
1 February 2016
The AMX 38 was a medium tank produced by the recently nationalised tank production branch of Renault, but that didn't see combat in 1940.
The AMX R 40 was an improved version of the Renault R35, the most numerous French tank in 1940.
13 January 2016
The 347th Fighter Group (USAAF) fought on Guadalcanal, the Solomons, New Guinea, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines.
The 348th Fighter Group (USAAF) was based in the south-west Pacific and fought on New Guinea, in the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines before ending the war operating against the Japanese Home Islands.
The 350th Fighter Group (USAAF) was formed in Britain as part of the Eighth Air Force, but quickly moved to North Africa and remained in the Mediterranean theatre for the rest of the war.
Updates from: Current • 2017 • 2016 • 2015 • 2014 • 2013 • 2012 • 2011 • 2010 • 2009 • 2008 • 2007
The end of WW2: 5 articles you can read right now
As we reach the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, marking the effective end of the Second World War, BBC History Magazine editor Rob Attar highlights five pieces from our archive that offer interesting perspectives on the final months of the conflict
This competition is now closed
Published: August 13, 2020 at 12:33 pm
Was the US justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War?
Ultimately, it was the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought the war to an end. Seventy-five years later, debates still rage about whether this was a justifiable action, and we explored both sides of the argument in a 2015 BBC History Magazine article, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary. (The web version also incorporates a discussion on the subject between two HistoryExtra readers.)
As you’ll see from the article, there are strong arguments on both sides. I’ve been to the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, which really forces home the almost unfathomable horror and destruction of the nuclear attack. But, on the other hand, soldiers and civilians were being killed in huge numbers throughout the Pacific War, and if the bombs really did shorten the conflict by months, or even years, then might this have been a lesser evil?
VJ Day: Turning the tide in the east
I’m cheating a little bit here as it’s not yet in the archive, but I do encourage you to pick-up the September 2020 issue of BBC History Magazine where you’ll be able to read Jonathan Fennell’s piece on how British and Commonwealth forces turned the tide against Japan in Burma. As much as military logistics or battle strategies, he identifies the morale of the international force as being critical to battling back against the Japanese troops. With much of the British empire beginning to creak, inspiring Indian, African and other soldiers to risk their lives for the cause was a tremendous challenge.
I explored this subject further with Jonathan for the HistoryExtra podcast, which will soon be available to download.
Why did the Allies win the Second World War?
Back in our May 2020 issue, we included a special supplement to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day and I’d like to highlight this article where eight historians – among them Max Hastings, James Holland and Andrew Roberts – selected what they view as the prime reason for the Nazis’ defeat. Several of the historians pointed to the Nazi-Soviet clash, which accounted for the vast majority of casualties in Europe, but other factors, including code-breaking and Hitler’s own interventions, also made the list.
“Many of the Holocaust’s perpetrators got away with it”: why Nazi crimes went unpunished
The end of the war in Europe also brought to an end the Holocaust, but of course the story didn’t end there, as survivors sought to cope with what had happened to them, and attempts were made (and often not made) to bring perpetrators to justice. In this fascinating article, originally published in BBC World Histories, Mary Fulbrook explored the legacy of the Holocaust in a conversation with fellow expert Richard J Evans.
Listen: Mary Fulbrook and Richard J Evans explore the aftermath of the Nazi genocide, considering how subsequent generations have sought to understand the greatest atrocity of the 20th century, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:
“The war without an end”: what happened in Europe after VE Day?
The Second World War is often neatly delineated into the years 1939–45, but the reality of what happened after WW2 is more complicated. In the east, the war in China had begun at least two years earlier, and in Europe, the end of the war did not necessarily bring peace to the continent. This Keith Lowe article from 2015 examines the conflicts that blighted Europe after the Nazi surrender, some of which have still not fully been resolved. A war without end?
Rob Attar is the editor of BBC History Magazine
The Poetry of World War II
By its conclusion in 1945, World War II had become the single deadliest conflict in history. Over 25 million soldiers had lost their lives, as well as 55 million civilians, including 11 million killed in concentration camps. To mark the 75th anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war, we have assembled a selection of poems written in English during and after the Second World War. Many of these poems first appeared in the pages of Poetry magazine and were written by former soldiers such as Randall Jarrell, as well as conscientious objectors such as Stanley Kunitz and Robert Lowell. Still others were written by civilians, editors, and journalists working at home. These poems demonstrate an acute attention to the horror, sacrifice, and sublime reckoning of the conflict.
In order to contextualize these works, we have listed the poems by year, along with a selection of historical markers. In addition, we have provided a separate list of poets and volunteers who served in the War, many of whose work features on this list.
The poems here are broad and various. You may notice that earlier poems demonstrate a disbelief at the scope of the conflict, while later poems express a mournful acceptance and a turn toward individual voice and empathy. Anticipating the movements of postmodernism, the poetry of World War II as a whole marks a deciding change in how many poets would view violence, sacrifice, and our responses to historical atrocities and trauma. To suggest additions, contact us. Also be sure to take a look at our sampler of World War II Poets .
Hitler invades Poland on September 1. Britain and France declare war on Germany. The British ship “Athenia” is sunk by German U-Boats. Russia invades Finland.
Churchill becomes Prime Minister of Britain. Germany bombards England, British victory in Battle of Britain. Germany invades Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. France occupied and divided. Nazis seal Warsaw ghetto.
“9.19.1939” by Robinson Jeffers
“The Bloody Sire” by Robinson Jeffers
“To Napoleon, in an Evil Time” by Babette Deutsch
“Victory” by Arthur J. Kramer
“Foamy Sky” by Miklós Radnóti
“Guernica” by James Johnson Sweeney
“On a Photograph of a German Soldier Dead in Poland” by John Ciardi
“Address to the Refugees” by John Malcolm Brinnin
“End of a Year” by Julian Symons
“Now That the War is Here” by R.N. Currey
“For Wilfred Owen” by Josephine Jacobsen
“Midnight Air Raid” by J.F. Hendry
Germany invades Russia, begins siege on Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Allies take Tobruk in North Africa. Nazis order Jews to wear yellow stars for identification. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor (December 7). U.K. and U.S. declare war on Japan.
Singapore falls to the Japanese. U.S. victory at Battle of Midway. Mass murder at Auschwitz begins. U.S. forces relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans. Britain attacks German army in North Africa. U.S. defeats Japan at Guadalcanal.
Germany surrenders at Stalingrad. Allied forces take Tunisia, ending war in North Africa. Italy invaded by Allies. Italy surrenders. British and Indian forces fight Japanese in Burma.
“Small Soldiers with Drum in Large Landscape” by Robert Penn Warren
“Reflections on War as Art” by Helen Goldbaum
“War Poem” by Oscar Williams
“Military Camp” by Patrick Anderson
“Killed in Action” by Doris Bailey
“For My Pupils in the War Years” by John Malcolm Brinnin
“For Those Fighting” by Clarence Weinstock
“Poem for a Soldier's Girl” by John Ciardi
“Paris” by Karl Shapiro
“Ode to England” by Julia Garcia Games
“Soldier Boy” by Selwyn S. Schwartz
“Shot Down at Night” by John Frederick Nims
“Poem (“Lord, I have seen…”) by Karl Shapiro
“Strength to War” by Stephen Stepanchev
“This Day This World” by Stanley Kunitz
“War Poem for Britain” by David Daiches
“War Time” by Josephine Miles
“Absent with Official Leave” by Randall Jarrell
“Poem in Time of War” by William Abrahams
[“what if a much of a which of a wind”] by E.E. Cummings
“Reflection by a Mailbox” by Stanley Kunitz
Soviets liberate Leningrad, ending 900-day German siege. Allies bomb Monte Cassino Abbey in Italy. D Day: Allied forces storm Normandy beaches on June 6. Guam is liberated. Iwo Jima bombed. Gandhi released from prison. The Battle of the Bulge. Assassination attempt on Hitler fails.
“Galileo Goes to War” by Preston Newman
“Concert, in Wartime” by Eve Merriam
“Ten-Day Leave” by William Meredith
“For R. A. S. (1925-1943) ” by F.R. Scott
from “Epitaphs” by Abraham Sutzkever
“Old Men at Air Base” by Le Garde S. Doughty
“Poem near Pearl Harbor” by William Jay Smith
“Letter to My Wife” by Miklós Radnóti
“Field Hospital” by Robert Wistrand
“Reflections while Oiling a Machine Gun” by John Ciardi
“Days and Battles Go On” by David Cornel De Jong
“A Front” by Randall Jarrell
“Love Letter from an Impossible Land” by William Meredith
“An Epitaph for the American Dead” by Yvor Winters
“The Children's Elegy” by Muriel Rukeyser
“Moonlight Alert” by Yvor Winters
“Losses” by Randall Jarrell
“Navy Field” by William Meredith
“Troop Train” by Karl Shapiro
“Notes for an Elegy” by William Meredith
Auschwitz and Dachau are liberated. Hitler retreats to a bunker where he commits suicide. Germany surrenders. Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders.
1946 and After
United Nations charter ratified. Nuremberg trials. U.S. closes Japanese internment camps. End of war declared. Postwar Europe's new boundaries drawn. The Marshall Plan aids European reconstruction. Truman signs Displaced Persons Act, allowing 200,000 refugees to settle in the U.S.
Oregon Poet Laureate Inada Reflects on Internment: Along with more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans, Lawson Fusao Inada was sent to internment camps for the duration of World War II.
What we learned from the liberation of Nazi camps, 70 years later: Jeffrey Brown speaks with Mark Ludwig, editor of Liberation: New Works on Freedom from Internationally Renowned Poets, and Rita Dove, who contributed to the book.
Much Casual Death: Christopher Ricks discusses Anthony Hecht’s harrowing and unforgettable poem “More Light! More Light!” on Poetry Off the Shelf.
Without House and Ground: A PoemTalk Discussion of Two Poems by Charles Reznikoff.
The Doubter and the Saint: At a fateful moment, Czeslaw Miłosz crossed paths with a controversial Polish priest, later martyred in World War II.
“100 Years of Poetry: The Magazine and War”: A historical look at the role of poetry in wartime.
Of Strangeness That Wakes Us: On mother tongues, fatherlands, and Paul Celan.
“Are We All Monsters?”: Philip Schultz’s The Wherewithal grapples with the Holocaust, poverty, Vietnam, and then some.
Poetry, Wartime, and Unwieldy Metaphors: A panel of poets discuss “Poems of Peace and War.”
Scraps of History: Anna Rabinowitz’s book-length poem Darkling reimagined as an opera.
Women, Gender, and World War II
The Second World War changed the United States for women, and women in turn transformed their nation. Over three hundred fifty thousand women volunteered for military service, while twenty times as many stepped into civilian jobs, including positions previously closed to them. More than seven million women who had not been wage earners before the war joined eleven million women already in the American work force. Between 1941 and 1945, an untold number moved away from their hometowns to take advantage of wartime opportunities, but many more remained in place, organizing home front initiatives to conserve resources, to build morale, to raise funds, and to fill jobs left by men who entered military service.
The U.S. government, together with the nation’s private sector, instructed women on many fronts and carefully scrutinized their responses to the wartime emergency. The foremost message to women—that their activities and sacrifices would be needed only “for the duration” of the war—was both a promise and an order, suggesting that the war and the opportunities it created would end simultaneously. Social mores were tested by the demands of war, allowing women to benefit from the shifts and make alterations of their own. Yet dominant gender norms provided ways to maintain social order amidst fast-paced change, and when some women challenged these norms, they faced harsh criticism. Race, class, sexuality, age, religion, education, and region of birth, among other factors, combined to limit opportunities for some women while expanding them for others.
However temporary and unprecedented the wartime crisis, American women would find that their individual and collective experiences from 1941 to 1945 prevented them from stepping back into a prewar social and economic structure. By stretching and reshaping gender norms and roles, World War II and the women who lived it laid solid foundations for the various civil rights movements that would sweep the United States and grip the American imagination in the second half of the 20th century.
The wartime arenas where American women witnessed—and often helped to generate—crucial changes and challenges were wage-based employment, volunteer work, military service, and sexual expression. In each of these arenas, women exercised initiative, autonomy, circumspection, caution, or discretion according to their individual needs and the dictates of patriotic duty.
Wage Work and Opportunity
Economic opportunities abounded for women willing and able to seize them. Wage work in war industries offered hourly pay rates much higher than those to which most women had been accustomed, with the best wages paid in munitions plants and the aircraft industry. Women were encouraged to apply for “war work” after President Franklin Roosevelt created the U.S. War Manpower Commission (WMC) to mobilize Americans in various venues for a total war effort. In August 1942 , the WMC organized a Women’s Advisory Committee to consider how female employees could be used most effectively toward this end. Late in 1942 , the WMC announced a new campaign to recruit women workers after estimating that “the great majority” of some five million new employees in 1943 would have to be women. The WMC also identified one hundred U.S. cities as “Critical War Areas,” with intent to marshal the “widely dispersed” womanpower reserves in these cities. The main targets were local married women who already lived in the designated metropolitan areas, including middle-aged and older individuals who had never worked outside their homes or whose experience was limited to domestic work. A major challenge would be “to remove social stigma attached to the idea of women working,” the WMC literature noted. 1 Since the employment of married women had been a long-standing practice in working-class families and in the middle-class African American community, the WMC propaganda implicitly targeted white middle-class women who had not typically worked for wages.
Madison Avenue advertising agencies designed and produced a variety of propaganda campaigns for the U.S. government, including the WMC’s bold declaration and appeal late in 1942 : “Women Workers Will Win the War.” Local U.S. Employment Service offices coordinated efforts to place women in jobs best suited to their skills and family needs. Mothers with children under fourteen were encouraged not to seek employment outside their homes unless other family members or trusted neighbors could offer reliable childcare. 2 The propaganda campaigns generated posters, billboards, films, and radio announcements urging women to join the work force some touted their domestic skills as advantageous for carrying out defense work, since women were thought to excel at repetitive tasks requiring small operations with fine details. While the images overwhelmingly featured young, white, married women, an occasional entreaty announced, “Grandma’s got her gun,” referring to an elderly worker’s riveting tool. Several corporations with U.S. government contracts proudly sponsored chapters of the War Working Grandmothers of America. In Washington war agencies, the demographic defined as “older” meant “women over 35.” 3 Women of color rarely appeared in advertisements for industrial work, although their accomplishments and workplace awards were widely reviewed in African American newspapers and journals, including the NAACP’s principal publication, The Crisis, and the National Urban League’s Opportunity. Such coverage constituted a vital part of the “Double V” campaign, an effort launched by the black press to defeat racism at home while troops fought fascism abroad. 4
American women became artillery inspectors, aircraft welders, sheet metal assemblers, gear cutters, lathe operators, chemical analysts, and mechanics of all kinds. Length and depth of training varied according to industry, with many forced to learn quickly if not “on the job” itself. By 1944 , skilled female workers earned an average weekly wage of $31.21. In spite of federal regulations requiring equitable pay for similar work, their male counterparts in similar positions earned $54.65 weekly. 5 Years of experience in specific jobs accounted for some wage disparity between men and women but could not account for aggregate discrimination during the war years. However unequal their wages compared with men’s, women in defense industries out-earned most “pink collar” employees who held retail, service, or clerical jobs. Constance Bowman, a schoolteacher who spent the summer of 1943 working in a San Diego B-24 bomber factory, earned 68 cents an hour. A beginning sales clerk at the upscale Bullock’s Wilshire Department Store in Los Angeles earned about $20 week, two thirds of a factory worker’s salary. 6 If women were able to cross boundaries into the “masculinized” workplaces of heavy industry, they would be remunerated more handsomely than women who remained in safely “feminized” spheres of employment but they would not always see paychecks matching those of their male co-workers, even when they faced the same workplace challenges and hazards.
The Women’s Bureau (WB) at the U.S. Department of Labor sent field representatives to factories throughout the country to scrutinize working conditions. Among the WB administrators’ gravest concerns were endangered female bodies on factory floors, where safety seemed subordinate to management’s production quotas and workers’ personal style preferences. An alarming New York Times story announced in January 1944 that American “industry deaths” since the attack on Pearl Harbor had exceeded the “number killed in war” by 7,500. 7 The Labor Department tried to convince American women to prioritize safety when choosing work apparel: to wear safety shoes or boots rather than ordinary footwear and to don protective caps or helmets rather than bandanas and scarves. A WB analyst reported that “the most distressing accident” in war industry resulted from long hair catching in machinery. In Rhode Island a woman was “completely scalped” after her hair coiled on an assembly line belt. The Office of War Information (OWI), the U.S. government’s chief propaganda agency, produced documents illustrating proper and improper ways to style and wear hair in industrial jobs. The WB urged factories to adopt rules about head coverings as well as safety shoes and slacks. The Labor Department even designed “fashionable” caps and hats in a variety of shapes and colors, since their research concluded that women did not wish to look exactly like one another in the workplace. 8
More shocking than minimal head protection was the use of substandard footwear, which led U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins to sound a warning bell at a 1943 “Women in War Industries” conference. In her opening address, Perkins noted that most industrial accidents among women were in the “slip, fall, and stumble categories,” leading her to recommend that work uniforms include “shoes devised particularly to help women prevent” such accidents. 9 Perkins and others concerned about occupational safety had to contend with American shoe retailers—and their representatives in Washington—who insisted that women would want to wear their sandals, moccasins, and espadrilles to work. 10 Retail store managers were told they could assist in recruitment and retention of female defense workers by displaying attractive work clothes that promoted safety, neatness, and good health. 11 In spite of U.S. government war agencies’ directives to defense plants to enforce safety standards on all fronts, some Labor Department inspectors found that corporate managers would not comply until threatened with prosecution. 12
Munitions makers and retailers alike were encouraged to take women employees’ “health and beauty” needs seriously, providing them with cosmetics, soaps, and sanitary supplies to use in workplace restrooms and lounges. Such comfort packages would not merely attract employees but also keep them content and more likely to stay after they had been hired. 13 The Labor Department recommended a sufficient number of showers and lockers on site for particular industries, such as shipbuilding, where women preferred to travel to and from work in their “street clothes.” 14 Working women saw magazine advertisements instructing them to pay particularly close attention to skincare and personal hygiene, lest they lose their “femininity” in the much-altered economic and social landscape of wartime America. 15
Job opportunities and steady wages could not offset for many the hardships of fulltime employment: shift work, long commutes, limited childcare options, and inconvenient shopping hours for food and other necessities. Very few grocery and department store owners chose to accommodate women who needed to do their shopping in the late evening or night hours. That women workers got sick more often than men was attributed to the fact that they were doing, “in effect, two fulltime jobs.” 16 U.S. government promises to organize day care centers in war boom areas went largely unfulfilled, meeting the needs of a mere fraction of the large population of working mothers the public childcare project was not funded until 1943 , and “even then, the centers provided care for only 10 percent of the children who needed it.” 17
While limited training, sore muscles, and exhaustion from the home/work double shift discouraged many women, added burdens for women of color included workplace discrimination and harassment. They endured racial slurs and physical attacks in factories, and disproportionately filled the lowest-paid and least appealing jobs, including janitorial work. The Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC)—created by Executive Order 8802 in 1941 to address racial discrimination in industry—lacked the funds to handle the wave of complaints engendered by rapid wartime mobilization. When FEPC cases faced delays, black women searching for work or seeking promotions in their current jobs suffered the most. But women of color, like all American women, found their greatest challenge to be reconciling home life and work life during the war years. Opportunity magazine noted that black women in defense jobs grew “much more irritated than men by periods of standing around and doing nothing,” since they knew they could use the down time running errands for their second shift duties at home. One commentator suggested release of workers in factory down periods in order to promote “better morale” and to stem the tide of absenteeism, a significant problem among female employees eighteen months into the war. 18
American women were encouraged to consider every job a war job, however irrelevant a particular position might seem with regard to the military effort. Beyond riveting and welding, other tasks required even more hands and minds nationwide. The United States needed farm laborers, telephone operators, laundry workers, food servers, and bus drivers. Three million women cultivated crops in the federal agriculture program known as the Women’s Land Army. And while women had filled clerical positions for nearly half a century in the United States, the war accelerated the trend. Women took certain places as men vacated them, with the U.S. government offering hundreds of thousands of desk jobs to anyone who could file, type, and take dictation. The expanding bureaucratic structure of war was matched by private sector growth, where American businesses were forced to open their doors and offices to female employees. With the military draft taking its share of male, middle-class clerks and salesmen, openings for women abounded in the consumer economy. Radio stations, insurance firms, and advertising agencies hired more women than ever before. Banking, in particular, saw “feminization” in its employment ranks at the beginning of the war, some sixty-five thousand women worked in banking but by the end of 1944 , approximately one hundred thirty thousand women were bank employees, constituting nearly one half of the industry’s total personnel. 19
Beyond those who earned wages, millions of women donated their time, money, or both, especially in the realm of morale work. Those who cultivated a genuine spirit of volunteerism saw their work bear fruit, even though some groups were criticized for their “charity bazaar” approach. Images circulated of the rich snob who sat at a booth for a few hours a week but remained oblivious to real sacrifice. 20 A government handbook for the American Women’s Voluntary Service (AWVS) clarified the organization’s purpose as well its diverse membership in many states, where women carried out “real hard work.” They took classes on home repair and first aid, helped children, and learned practical wartime skills such as map reading, convoy driving, clinical photography, and Morse code. The AWVS affected every aspect of wartime culture, sending its members to assist military personnel, distribute ration books, sell war bonds, and collect salvage, as well as to recruit blood donors, nurses, farm workers, and child care workers, and to knit, sew, and recondition clothes for military families and relief agencies. 21
AWVS chapters took pride in their “non-sectarian, non-political, non-profit-making” status to encourage women from many backgrounds to join their ranks. Across the country the AWVS made strides in several socially sensitive areas including interracial cooperation. Indeed, African American women urged others to support the organization, because it “transcend[ed] any consideration of race, or color, or class, or caste.” The AWVS became a place where, through their work together, women could understand “each other’s problems and shortcomings and consciously or unconsciously, [develop] an appreciation of each other’s virtues,” one member reported. Interracial volunteer activities among women spurred optimism for a more inclusive postwar America while stimulating the growth of similar organizations where women could meet and serve a larger cause. 22
In the realm of “morale,” the presumed purview of women, one group enjoyed the spotlight above all others—the United Service Organizations (USO). In assisting and entertaining U.S. military troops, USO volunteers were asked to consider their work the female equivalent of military service. Through gender-defined actions and activities, USO volunteers were expected to assume particular mental and emotional postures when dealing with soldiers and sailors. The ideal USO junior hostess’s femininity quotient was determined in part by her ability to yield to a serviceman’s wishes within the boundaries of middle-class American womanhood. How she presented herself would determine the reactions of soldiers and sailors, she was instructed. Patience, general optimism, and good listening skills were a good hostess’s requisite qualities. Since many USO sites provided games, women played table tennis, checkers, and cards, and often allowed their male opponents to win. Such “gendered emotional work” meant women were not to appear too smart or too competitive to challenge a serviceman’s masculinity undermined the organization’s purpose of supporting male service members’ morale. As historian Meghan Winchell argues, “If a hostess made a serviceman happy, then she had done her job, and this, not meeting her own interests, theoretically provided her with satisfaction.” Her selflessness would presumably reinforce cultural gender norms and uphold social order in the midst of wartime crisis. 23
This requisite “cheerful selflessness” was matched by the initiative of women who chose to relocate near their spouses’ military installations. In packed trains and buses, often with young children in tow, they made their way cross-country to visit or live near their husbands. One observer called them “the saddest and most predictable feature of the crowded train stations and bus terminals.” 24 War brides on the move could easily identify each other and found comfort in their shared condition. 25 African American army wives who accompanied their husbands to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, lived in a squalid “unconverted barrack” outside the camp’s gates during the day they served the base as secretaries, janitors, cooks, food servers, launderers, and maids in white officers’ homes. But their main priority, according to a reporter for The Crisis, was “the morale of their menfolk.” 26
Women who volunteered for military service posed a great challenge to the collective consciousness about gender and sexual norms and clear gender divisions, especially regarding who could be considered a soldier, sailor, or marine. The women in uniform closest to the front lines were nurses, government-sanctioned “angels of mercy” whose work Americans more readily accepted because it reflected expectations that women were natural caregivers. Precedent also helped to secure the public’s approval of women serving in this capacity both the army nurse corps and navy nurse corps had existed since the early 20th century, with more than twenty thousand military nurses serving during the First World War, half of them in overseas duty. But female volunteers in military organizations founded during World War II faced tougher scrutiny than nurses their womanhood and femininity were questioned by many detractors, even though the idea of national service for women was not new. As early as 1940 , First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had recommended a required service responsibility (although not specifically a military duty) for all young American women. 27 Roosevelt did not get her peacetime wish, but after the U.S. declared war in December 1941 , the mobilization of women as assistants in the army seemed not merely plausible but imperative. U.S. Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers’ bill to that effect had languished since May 1941 , but in May 1942 , Congress approved it and President Roosevelt signed it, creating the all-volunteer Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
Three additional military units followed the creation of a women’s army. The women’s naval organization, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), was founded in July of 1942 the women’s coast guard, Semper Paratus Always Ready (SPAR), followed in November and finally, the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (USMCWR) was established in February 1943 . All four of the women’s military groups were designed to release men who held military desk jobs and other stateside responsibilities for combat duty, something many men resented. In addition, because of the expansive mobilization of the military for the war, thousands of new clerical positions emerged in all branches of the armed services and this too inspired calls for female military personnel. As one colorful recruitment poster directed at women commanded, “Be A Marine. Free A Marine to Fight.” Recruiters had to proceed cautiously with a message whose logic told women that joining a military service organization would send more men to their deaths. Even so, the message reinforced gender differences—women might wear uniforms, march in formation, and be promoted, but only men could face enemy forces at battle sites. Thus, men continued to dominate the most masculine of human activities—warfare—which was further masculinized by U.S. government propaganda in the 1940s. 28
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) did not receive military status during World War II, but members participated in the American war effort by ferrying planes from factory sites to defense camps and embarkation points. These female aviators also tested new aircraft, hauled cargo, and assisted male pilots in training exercises. In 1944 , U.S. Army Air Corps General Henry “Hap” Arnold publicly declared WASP pilots as capable as their male counterparts. Thirty-eight women died serving in the WASP during its two-year existence ( 1942–44 ), yet none of the pilots’ families received government support for their funerals because the organization was not officially militarized. 29
Propaganda aimed at enticing women to join one of the military forces touted substantial base pay in addition to food, lodging, clothing, and medical and dental care. But the Office of War Information (OWI) insisted that recruitment messages refrain from appealing “entirely to the self-interest approach.” Women were not supposed to entertain individual needs or wishes, but instead to join for higher, nobler reasons: “patriotism and the desire to help our fighting men,” the OWI instructed. 30 Even so, years later, many female soldiers, sailors, marines, and pilots admitted to volunteering because they wanted an adventure or independence or both. 31
Figure 1. Recruitment poster created by the Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information-Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services, 1944 . U.S. National Archives (44-PA-260A).
In 1943 , the women’s army group discarded its “auxiliary” status to become an integral part of the U.S. Army and was renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), a move that generated an outpouring of criticism, concern, and derision. Male GIs carried out a smear campaign against the organization. They spread rumors that WAC volunteers served as prostitutes for male soldiers, reinforcing a notion that army life encouraged promiscuity. Some wondered whether incorporating the WAC into the regular army meant that its members would—like their male counterparts—be issued condoms. Would army life encourage sexual activity among female volunteers? 32 Viewed not simply in ethical terms, women’s sexual autonomy was considered transgressive behavior that aligned them too closely with men in uniform, whose masculinity was often measured by their sexual prowess and emphasized during the war years. 33 The blurring or crossing of gender and sexual lines in this realm implied a social disorder that many Americans could not abide.
Worries about women’s sexual independence also inspired rumors of a “lesbian threat” in the WAC. In the 1940s, both American medical opinion and public opinion associated female sexual “deviance” as much with a woman’s appearance as her actions. Androgyny or, in wartime language, a “mannish” way, could mark a woman as suspect since she challenged the rules of femininity that grounded heterosexuality and secured a traditional social order. As women stepped into previously all-male venues during the war years, gender “disguise” could be interpreted as dangerous. Acutely aware of this, WAC director Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby ordered army women “to avoid rough or masculine appearance which would cause unfavorable public comment.” 34 In the spring of 1944 , female mechanics at Ellington Air Base, Texas, attended lectures about “proper dress for work” with a warning not to “roll up” the legs or sleeves of their coveralls. One Ellington mechanic wrote to her parents, “We are now buttoned and covered from tip to toe.” The OWI instructed advertisers and illustrators to show female soldiers in “complete G. I. uniform” and never “smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages,” concerns not voiced about men in uniform. These rules of propriety indicated the preeminent role that clothing played in assigning gender and sexual identities during the war. Even the appearance of impropriety could be grounds for dismissal and a dishonorable discharge. 35
Beyond the role of patriotic duty, the U.S. government’s preeminent recruitment message emphasized gender, declaring: “Women in uniform are no less feminine than before they enlisted.” In fact, officials hoped to appeal to women’s sartorial interests by using fashion plate graphic designs in recruitment literature. Illustrations of female soldiers posing as atelier models and department store mannequins displayed the numerous stylish items in a military wardrobe—from foundations to outerwear—together worth about $250. The idea was not only to recruit women but also to counter critics who railed against the idea of women’s military organizations in the United States. The tactics worked many volunteers admitted joining one organization or another because they liked the uniforms. 36
Enlistment criteria, training, and job assignments varied widely by organization. The WAC accepted volunteers with a minimum of two years of high school, while the WAVES required a high school diploma, with college “strongly recommended.” Female marines in the women’s reserve (WRs) needed at least two years of college credit. Their respective training models also bespoke their differences. While WAC recruits trained, lived, and worked at army camps, WAVES and WRs took instruction on college campuses. As a result of the varying minimum standards for enlistment in the women’s services, the WAC became home to a more ethnically and racially diverse population, and it enlisted women from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds, including those who could not afford to attend college. More age-diverse as well, the WAC welcomed women between the ages of 20 and 50 who had no children under 14 years, whereas the WAVES, SPAR, and USMCWR limited their volunteer base to women between the ages of 20 and 36 who had no children under 18. Of the four women’s military services, only the WAC allowed its members to serve overseas. 37
To alert women to the army’s variety of needs and encourage them to volunteer, the WAC advertised “239 kinds of jobs.” Many recruits received specialized army training in radio, chemistry, mechanics, and other fields, while others brought previously honed skills, such as foreign language training, into the army. Bilingual Latinas, for example, were recruited specifically for cryptology and interpretation a special unit comprised of two hundred Puerto Rican WAC volunteers served at the New York Port of Embarkation and other locations dedicated to the shipment of U.S. troops. Nevertheless, some female soldiers were given tasks considered “women’s work” rather than jobs they had been promised or trained to do. WAC officer Betty Bandel discovered low morale among troops whose expectations about their roles were not met. The army had given them domestic tasks, similar to those they had held in civilian life, or it had failed to utilize the professional expertise they brought with them into service. Disappointed at what she and her colleagues interpreted as gender discrimination, Bandel confided to her mother that some Army Air Force units had even requested that Wacs do the pilots’ laundry and provide “troop entertainment.” 38
Women of color who wished to join military units faced steep discrimination. Excluded from the WAVES and SPAR until November 1944 , and excluded from the wartime marines or WASP, sixty-five hundred African Americans joined a segregated women’s army. As one of the first female African American army officers, Charity Adams experienced vicious discrimination at Ft. Des Moines on several occasions. Early in her training, a higher-ranking white male officer—a fellow South Carolinian—excoriated Adams for appearing at the officers’ club one evening. In his lengthy peroration, Adams stood silently at attention while the colonel reminded her about segregation laws, the southern past, racialized slavery, and her “place” in this scheme. 39 Adams persevered at the Iowa base, rising in the ranks to major and commanding an all-black battalion of eight hundred fifty women assigned to a postal unit in Great Britain and France in 1945 . But she spent many hours at Ft. Des Moines tending to “extra” duties that fellow soldiers expected of her because she was black one of those tasks was cultivating the small Victory Garden at their barracks. Other women of color in uniform were assaulted at southern railway stations, denied access to facilities and dining cars on trains, and treated with disdain in towns near their bases and well beyond. 40
Japanese American women, initially barred from joining the Women’s Army Corps, were admitted beginning in November 1943 , but organization officials preferred that news outlets not publicize the inductions of Nisei women. 41 The WAVES, the second largest women’s military organization, did not accept Japanese American volunteers during the war. The pervasiveness of anti-Japanese sentiment adversely affected U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry, many of whom strove to prove their loyalty in the face of embedded racism and a nationwide hatred that took even deeper root among white supremacists as the 1940s wore on. 42
Sex, Marriage, and Motherhood
Loosening sexual mores, skyrocketing marriage rates, and a burgeoning baby boom characterized the war years. Casual sexual relations among the unmarried startled many Americans, who blamed young women—especially those who worked outside their homes—for shifting standards. Government propaganda associated the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, with women rather than men by casting disease carriers as female. 43 Among the most vulnerable to infected women, official media suggested, were America’s men in uniform. Posters warned: “She May Look Clean—But” and, in 1941 , before the United States entered the war, the May Act declared prostitution near U.S. defense camps a federal crime. Yet the vast wartime mobilization effort combined with the cultural politics of the early 1940s provided American women a wide berth to express and enjoy sexual intimacy in the name of patriotism. Many who migrated to war boom cities and military installments left behind constraints on sexual behavior that had guided them in their home communities. As circumstances “opened up new sexual possibilities,” women more freely explored their erotic desires. 44 For example, lesbians socialized, fell in love, and “began to name and talk about who they were,” contributing to one of the war’s significant legacies, the establishment and reinforcement of lesbian and gay communities. 45 At the same time, shifting social standards made more women open targets for sexual innuendo and unwelcome invitations from strangers San Diego factory worker Constance Bowman wrote about cat calls and whistles and, on one occasion, a marine stalking her down a street with the persistent entreaty, “How about a little war work, Sister?” 46 The intersections of rapid defense mobilization, loosened social constraints, and greater female sexual autonomy created a home front where women became a “suspect category, subject to surveillance for the duration of the war,” Marilyn Hegarty argues. 47
Paradoxically, in the midst of wartime fear and surveillance of women’s sexuality, female allure and glamour were used to sell everything from laundry detergent to soda pop to troop morale. The World War II years marked the heyday of the “pin up girl,” and an unprecedented display of American women’s bodies movie stars such as Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner posed seductively for photographers and other artists, whose prints, posters, and calendars were reproduced in the millions and circulated widely. Ordinary American women copied these poses in photographs that they sent stateside to military camps and overseas to battlefronts. 48 And many women took the next logical step by literally offering their bodies—out of patriotic duty, to cap a brief encounter, or to seal a romantic relationship. 49
High U.S. marriage rates during World War II created a “Wartime Marriage Boom.” Between 1940 and 1943 , some 6,579,000 marriages took place, yielding over 1.1 million more marriages than rates in the 1920s and 1930s would have predicted. 50 A “bridal terror” had emerged soon after the Selective Service Act of 1940 initiated the United States’ first peacetime draft, and a rumored “man shortage” took hold of the American imagination midway through the war. Early on it was unclear how marriage and parenthood might affect military deferments, leading couples to tie the knot with expectations of securing extra time. In addition, with the wartime draft extending to males between the ages of 18 and 45, the pool of eligible men for marriage had presumably shrunk. By 1944 , rising U.S. casualty figures also contributed to the alarm. In large cities and defense camp areas, where soldiers and sailors congregated before deployment, “the urge to send men away happy meant numerous intimate liaisons, quick marriages, or both.” Many couples barely knew each other before taking their vows. A 1944 U.S. Census Bureau survey revealed that more than 2.7 million young, married women had husbands away in the armed services. The following year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more marriages had occurred “in each of the past four years than in any prior year in the history of the United States.” 51 War mobilization encouraged many couples to marry sooner than they had planned and others to marry soon after meeting each other. Many of these long distance relationships unraveled over the war years, with the high wartime marriage rates resulting in the highest divorce rates in U.S. history. 52
A baby boom accompanied the marriage boom, and many young mothers were left alone to care for their children and make ends meet. The more resourceful of them pooled their funds by “tripling up” in apartments, splitting the rent and food costs, and sharing childcare and housekeeping responsibilities. 53 Others found childcare where they could in order to take advantage of defense industry jobs. These working mothers received limited assistance from federally sponsored childcare facilities that had been authorized under the 1940 Lanham Act, an extension of the Depression-era public works projects. Underfunded and concentrated primarily in war boom areas, federal childcare centers served some six hundred thousand children during the war years yet at their greatest use, they served only 13 percent of children who needed them. Americans’ steadfast belief in a mother’s responsibility to remain at home with her children persisted during World War II even the war emergency failed to temper this deeply entrenched, middle class standard. 54 The notable exception to otherwise meager organized childcare assistance came on the west coast, where the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company provided its female employees in Washington, Oregon, and California with reliable, well-staffed facilities. The Richmond shipyards in the San Francisco Bay area oversaw approximately fourteen hundred children daily. 55
Figure 2. Josie Lucille Owens, Kaiser Shipyards, Richmond, California.
Working mothers were forced to make difficult choices during the war years. Some chose second shifts or night shifts, so they could be with their children during the day and work while they were sleeping. Others who worked day shifts were criticized for leaving their children. In several defense boom areas, social workers and school staff speculated that women entering the work force were spurred by “additional income and a too great readiness to evade full responsibility for their children” rather than “patriotic motives.” 56 Pressure on mothers to assume full responsibility for their children intensified during the war years, as reports of increasing juvenile delinquency appeared in magazines and newspapers. In A Generation of Vipers ( 1942 ), Philip Wylie criticized “Mom” for many “social discomforts and ills,” particularly the problems of American youth. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover instructed mothers to stop “the drift of normal youth toward immorality and crime,” telling them not to take war jobs if their employment meant “the hiring of another woman to come in and take care of [their] children.” American society, in spite of the wartime emergency, barely budged on its expectations of working mothers. 57
Figure 3. “And then in my spare time . . .” Bob Barnes for the Office of War Information, ca. 1943. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97636), digital ID: cph 3b43729.
Mobility, Sacrifice, and Patriotic Duty
Women’s growing independence during World War II was visibly characterized by their mobility. The cities, towns, and camps attracting them were located on both coasts and everywhere in between—Washington, DC, Seattle, Portland, Mobile, Detroit, St. Louis, and numerous other places where the prospects of war work, steady wages, or other opportunities beckoned. Some traveled occasionally to see their sweethearts, sons, and husbands, while others took to the road daily or weekly to punch time clocks in defense factories. Extending and expanding the Great Migration from the rural south to urban, industrial America, black women entered shipyards, ordnance plants, and bomber factories in unprecedented numbers.
Industrial growth and military mobilization allowed women to crisscross the nation in trains and buses, but their new mobility caused many Americans a sense of uneasiness and discontent. Women who traveled or lived alone were viewed with suspicion, while those who crowded into teeming defense areas, with or without their families, were often treated with scorn by local residents. In Portland, Oregon, community women criticized female shipyard workers who came into town “dirty and tired” at the end of their shifts. In Mobile, Alabama, a woman berated newcomers as “the lowest type of poor whites, these workers flocking in from the backwoods. They prefer to live in shacks and go barefoot . . . Give them a good home and they wouldn’t know what to do with it.” Many were met with the Depression-era epithet, “Okies.” In addition to the contempt they endured, migrants had to tolerate conditions that posed health risks: overcrowded boarding houses, makeshift accommodations, brimming sewers, limited water supplies and hard-pressed local schools. 58
In the nation’s capital, thousands of women who answered the persistent calls for office workers—a “Girls for Washington Jobs” campaign—created a “spectacle” that “staggered the imagination.” The women arrived in the city to find substandard lodging, if they found it at all. Construction on U.S. government residence halls that had been promised to unmarried female workers lagged months behind schedule, forcing women to find rooms in boardinghouses run by mercenary landlords or strict matrons. 59
Testing a woman’s conscience about her full participation in the war effort was commonplace in home front propaganda. She was supposed to want to undertake defense work, volunteer positions, or join a women’s military organization in order to support combat troops and out of a sense of patriotic duty. To use such positions to launch personal independence of any kind—especially financial—could be viewed as selfish or even reckless. African American sociologist Walter Chivers observed, in 1943 , that black women who thought they had left domestic work behind by seizing defense jobs would once again “have to seek employment in the white woman’s home.” An appeal for more military nurses late in the war asked: “Is Your Comfort as Important as the Lives of 15 Wounded Soldiers?” 60
Women were advised to spend their extra coins and dollars on war bonds or other U.S. government initiatives. The 1942 handbook Calling All Women advised that a ten-cent war stamp would purchase “a set of insignia for the Army” or “five .45 cartridges for the Marine Corps.” The 6th War Bond Drive in 1944 included a “Pin Money War Bond” promotion for women who previously had been unable to afford to buy bonds whether unemployed or underemployed, they could spend pennies and nickels to fill a “stamp” album that would eventually convert to a war bond. Eleanor Sewall, a Lockheed Aircraft employee whose husband was captured on Bataan, was heralded by the company for her decision to contribute 50 percent of her salary in payroll deductions toward war bonds. Beyond such an investment’s practical value in assisting the government, less disposable income for women would limit paths to financial independence that could be viewed as self-serving. Sacrifice in the cause of patriotic duty would temper desires for—and achievement of—personal autonomy. 61
Among many American women who sacrificed during the war were those who served near the front lines or had family members in military service. The sixty-six nurses who were captured by the Japanese on Corregidor spent three years in Santo Tomas prison camp in Manila. Besides sharing scarce food and limited supplies with three thousand other American and British prisoners, they shared three showers and five toilets with the five hundred other women there. 62 American mothers, wives, sisters, and sweethearts together lost more than four hundred thousand loved ones—the U.S. death casualty count—during the war. The writer Zelda Popkin noted that some women became “widows before they were really wives.” 63
Amidst sacrifice and loss, many American women clung to the opportunities extended to them during World War II. Prewar gender expectations had been tested and found wanting. Susan B. Anthony II, great-niece and namesake of the women’s suffrage fighter, argued in 1944 that women had proven their abilities in every field and therefore deserved “equal pay for equal work, a right grudgingly acceded” them during the war. Having worked all three shifts as a grinder in the Washington Navy Yard machine shop, while her fifty-six-year-old mother worked at a Pennsylvania radar factory, Anthony was confident that war’s end would “mark a turning point in women’s road to full equality.” 64
If the Allies’ fight for “freedom” meant personal independence, then American women had embraced it in the early 1940s. Of the “Four Freedoms” articulated by President Roosevelt in 1940 , “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” went a long way in explaining why some American women enjoyed the financial, social, and emotional rewards of the war years. The large number of those who developed skills and carried out new work, who put on military uniforms, married quickly, engaged in sexual activity freely, or moved several hundred miles away from home—or all of these—did so inside the grander framework of national and global crisis. Out of crisis, the most meaningful transformations emanated from the confidence they developed and the independence they felt and exercised. Many feared these would fade or be retracted after the war, and their fears were justified. From popular culture to social commentary to political leadership, powerful voices urged women to “go back home to provide jobs for service men,” despite the fact that the jobs many held were not available to servicemen before the war and that many returning servicemen had not worked for wages regularly in the 1930s. 65 Numerous surveys and polls of female workers found that most wanted to remain in the work force rather than return to their prewar employment conditions. 66 Efforts to “contain” women during the late 1940s and convince them to embrace a middle-class dream where they would play starring roles as domestic goddesses in their own homes eventually backfired. 67 Their wartime experiences combined with collective memory not only affected their daughters, sisters, and friends directly, but also reinforced the deep foundations of the equality crusades—from civil rights to women’s rights to workers’ rights to gay and lesbian rights—that would take center stage in the postwar generations.
Discussion of the Literature
Women featured in a few early histories of the Second World War, but they did not receive much scholarly notice as a group until the late 1970s, after the women’s movement and the field of women’s history had gained traction. The simultaneous influence of social sciences on history contributed to the heightened interest in women as subjects—they could be counted, plotted on graphs, and studied in the aggregate, especially as war workers. Thus the earliest scholarship highlighted women’s contributions to U.S. success in World War II, particularly through their work as builders and inspectors of military equipment. Leila J. Rupp’s book Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939–1945 ( 1978 ) focused on the U.S. government propaganda campaigns to get women into the factories and other places of employment and to keep them there for the duration. 68
In the 1980s, four landmark works appeared, establishing the vital role of American women in the Second World War and positing an essential question: How did women’s work for wages affect their abilities as wives, mothers, and homemakers? In Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women during World War II ( 1981 ), Karen Anderson focused on three of the fastest-growing industrial areas for war production: Detroit, Baltimore, and Seattle. Anderson unveiled the underside of these burgeoning urban workplaces, with their racial tensions and violence, age discrimination, and unfulfilled government promises to working homemakers who needed assistance with shopping, meal preparation, and child care. Susan Hartmann’s The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s ( 1982 ) launched Twayne’s American Women in the Twentieth Century series, a chronological history organized by decade. That Hartmann analyzed the 1940s, whole and entire, allowed readers to see the social and political forces operating to encourage the maintenance of traditional, clearly defined gender duties in postwar America ( 1945–1949 ), namely homemaking and motherhood for women. 69
In 1984 , D’Ann Campbell published the cleverly titled Women At War With America: Private Lives in a Patriotic Era, a work that approached various groups of American women in terms of their roles and resources. Using the rich material produced by social scientists and their organizations during the war, Campbell combined the techniques of both a social scientist and humanist to show that military women, homemakers, stateside service wives, and female industrial laborers, among others, fared much worse on all fronts than one group singled out and heralded because their work fit within acceptable gender parameters: nurses. All of these groups had gone to war, many answering the numerous calls to assist however they could, but Campbell demonstrated that American women remained at war with a nation that extended opportunities to them while simultaneously reining them in. 70
The fourth significant book published in the 1980s, Maureen Honey’s Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II ( 1984 ), revealed how high-circulation magazines aimed at particular audiences sought to appeal to women on the basis of class status and values. In addition to these four important works, Alice Kessler-Harris and Ruth Milkman also conducted studies in the 1980s on the challenges women faced during World War II as laborers. By the end of the decade these historians and other scholars generally agreed that the war had offered myriad and measurable opportunities to women of all races and at all socioeconomic levels, but the options proved temporary, resulting in little significant redefinition of cultural gender norms that had cast women primarily as wives and mothers. 71
This early scholarship was enriched by oral history projects begun in earnest in the 1980s, notably Sherna Berger Gluck’s interviews of southern California war workers in Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War and Social Change ( 1987 ), a collection that encouraged scholars to follow Gluck’s lead in focusing on personal narratives of women who now seemed comfortable talking candidly about their wartime experiences. Oral history projects would flourish in the 1990s, as fiftieth anniversary commemorations of U.S. involvement in World War II not only marked specific events but also prompted an urgency to record aging participants’ stories. Scholars’ concentration on particular locales or geographic regions, as well as specific groups of women or the jobs they carried out became organizing principles for a succession of oral history collections, some available online and others in print, such as Cindy Weigand’s Texas Women in World War II ( 2003 ) and Jeffrey S. Suchanek’s Star Spangled Hearts: American Women Veterans of World War II ( 2011 ). 72
While oral history projects flourished in the 1990s and beyond, Judy Barrett Litoff and David Smith began soliciting, collecting, and publishing as many wartime letters as possible. Their quest, begun in 1990 , continues a generation later, with an amassed total of over 30,000 letters written by women. Litoff and Smith’s edited collections remain a starting point for any scholar pursuing the voices of ordinary American women who corresponded during the war. 73
The emerging field of cultural studies influenced scholarship from the 1990s forward, bringing gender and sexuality to the fore. The questions raised by cultural studies required scholars to consider the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality as central elements in how women were viewed and what they experienced as a result. In Abiding Courage, Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo surveyed African American women who had migrated to northern California’s East Bay area, where employment in the shipyards and auxiliary industries offered economic opportunities unavailable in the Jim Crow south. Leisa D. Meyer’s Creating GI Jane revealed the myriad challenges, both real and imaginary, posed by a women’s army—notably Americans’ views on who could and should be a soldier and what that meant for a social order dependent on clear-cut gender norms Meyer was one of the first to analyze lesbian Wacs during WWII. Maureen Honey’s edited collection of primary sources, Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II ( 1999 ), investigated how women of color were depicted in popular culture, including the African American press, and how they negotiated these characterizations in addition to the challenges of wartime mobility, displacement, and opportunity. 74
In recent years, scholars examining American women during World War II have synthesized and built on the foundations laid by the previous generation, taking further the equations linking gender, sexuality, personal autonomy, and the media’s role in guiding individual and collective self-awareness, behavior, and cultural values. The historians’ titles reveal not only the characterizations of wartime women but also the pressures brought to bear on them during the crisis: Marilyn Hegarty’s Victory Girls, Khaki-Wackies, and Patriotutes: The Regulation of Female Sexuality during World War II ( 2008 ), Meghan K. Winchell’s Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II ( 2008 ), and Melissa A. McEuen’s Making War, Making Women: Femininity and Duty on the American Home Front, 1941–1945 ( 2011 ), all pose research questions that uncover uneasy truths about the measured oversight and careful management of American women during a U.S. war inspired by and fought to defend “freedom.” Similar questions remain today as historians still seek to understand how U.S. propaganda agencies, and American media in general, depicted women during the war, and what this meant to them, to those conducting the war effort, and to the nation at large. 75
Primary sources depicting or targeting American women during World War II—including photographs, posters, cartoons, advertisements, letters, government documents, and oral history interviews—are available in several major collections, most notably at the Library of Congress, the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, and Duke University’s Rubenstein Library.
A good place to initiate any study of women on the home front is with “Rosie Pictures,” a selection of images of wartime workers from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. The representative sampling in “Rosie Pictures” hints at what may be found among the library’s vast holdings of visual images, including the invaluable Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection, comprised of 175,000 photographs taken by U.S. government photographers who traveled throughout the nation between 1935 and 1944 . The collection has been carefully curated, with each item fully described and contextualized, and nearly all of them digitized.
The National Archives Library Information Center (ALIC) has organized information on women topically, so that the subject of war may be pursued from several angles and according to themes such as “women in the military” or “African American women.” Links to a variety of websites containing women’s history materials—though not necessarily items housed in the National Archives—may be found at the ALIC’s reference hub on Women. Millions of the U.S. government’s paper records not yet digitized are available at the College Park research facility, including documents produced by federal agencies created during the Second World War for specific objectives, such as the Office of War Information, the War Manpower Commission, and the War Production Board. At the U.S. Department of Labor, the Women’s Bureau generated countless pages of reports during the war, and all are available to researchers who visit the National Archives.
Duke University’s Rubenstein Library houses a variety of primary source materials in several major collections, including the War Effort Mobilization Campaigns Poster Collection, 1942‐1945, and the extensive Guide to the J. Walter Thompson Company. World War II Advertising Collection, 1940‐1948. Additional collections located in the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at the Rubenstein Library offer such resources as roadside billboard advertisements and department store window displays, designed to appeal to female consumers in the 1940s. Finally, among Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections is Ad Access, a database of magazine and newspaper advertisements that features over 1,700 items from the war years, including official propaganda and many promotions directed specifically at women.
Three other significant primary sources collections deserve attention and offer scholars insight into women’s lives and experiences during World War II. Interview transcripts and video excerpts of interviews conducted for the “Rosie the Riveter WWII American Home Front Project” by the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley, are available at the Bancroft Library site. Northwestern University Library’s World War II Poster Collection contains 338 items, thoroughly identified and contextualized and at a high resolution to facilitate close analysis, many of them featuring women. Images are available as high-resolution files for close analysis. For wartime correspondence, there is no better starting point than the U.S. Women and World War II Letter Writing Project, developed by Professor Judy Barrett Litoff at Bryant University, and housed there in 175 boxes. Several hundred letters are available as PDFs on the project site, along with a helpful Finding Aid to the entire collection, prepared by Litoff.
A number of museums and special exhibits devoted to American women’s roles and contributions in World War II contain valuable primary sources and historical analysis. These include: The Farm Labor Project: Brooklyn College Oral Histories on World War II and the McCarthy Era, Brooklyn College “Focus on: Women at War,” See & Hear Collections, The National World War II Museum, New Orleans National WASP World War II Museum, Sweetwater, Texas “Partners in Winning the War: American Women in World War II, National Women’s History Museum, Alexandria, Virginia “Women Come to the Front,” Library of Congress “WAVES, World War II, Establishment of Women’s Reserve,” Naval History and Heritage Command and “World War II: Women and the War,” Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Arlington, Virginia.
How Japan and the U.S. Remember World War II
On Tuesday, President Obama announced his decision to visit Hiroshima, Japan, the site where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in August 1945. Obama will specifically visit Memorial Park, which commemorates the event he will be the first sitting American president to do so, although he does not plan to offer any sort of apology. The bombing of Hiroshima killed around 100,000 people three days later, tens of thousands more were killed after the United States bombed Nagasaki.
To discuss the issues of war and memory, I spoke by phone with Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University. We talked about the ways in which the American and Japanese narratives of the war have changed over time, how nationalism has shaped the memory of World War II, and why Obama’s decision to visit is symbolically important. The conversation has been edited and condensed.
Isaac Chotiner: What did you make of President Obama’s decision to visit Memorial Park?
Carol Gluck: I think it is a very good decision. I think it is a decision that probably would have made sense to do earlier, but it makes particular sense to do in the context of President Obama’s anti-nuclear policies. It also makes sense in terms of the alliance between Japan and the United States. I think the question is why it took 71 years for this to happen. And I think there are answers to that.
The first reason is that the atomic bomb narrative is extremely strong in every country I have studied. It is one of the few aspects or parts of the story of the Second World War that haven’t changed, while other parts have. The countries’ national nuclear narratives are very much locked in place. The Japanese national narrative is that the bomb gave Japan a mission for peace in the world. The bomb doesn’t end the war: It starts the postwar mission for peace. The American narrative is that the bomb ended the war and saved American lives. That’s the story.
The second reason is that the politics of apology have gained more emphasis since the end of the Cold War.
That’s interesting because the critique some people make is that Japan’s understanding of the war hasn’t changed at all, on any front, and that the country still sees itself as a victim rather than an aggressor.
It has a victim narrative, but that is true with every country, including Germany, which saw itself as a victim of its leaders. But Japanese victims’ narratives lasted a lot longer than others. There are several reasons for that, but probably the most important was the United States, which conspired in creating that narrative in the first few months after the American occupation. To achieve the goals of the American occupation, it was important to see the Japanese aggression and atrocities as something that was brought about by bad leaders, so that these leaders—but not the people—were held responsible. That was a good grounding for reforms. This narrative sat well with the Japanese but it was a co-created narrative.
Do you think the larger Japanese narrative has changed?
Yes, yes. That is what I am trying to argue. The bomb story hasn’t changed but the country has changed since 1989. When Hirohito died in 1989, the same year the Cold War ended, the United States stopped being the only country that mattered to Japan. The country was [suddenly] facing Asia, and so you got the rise of issues like the comfort women and biological war crimes. [Japan exploited a vast number of sexual slaves—so-called “comfort women”—from the countries in Asia that it occupied.] These things, according to Japanese opinion polls, have had a tremendous impact on the Japanese public. That is why there is a conservative backlash. If you look at polls about the comfort women, the Japanese people think the comfort women should be compensated. You have to separate out the Japanese public from the right-wing politicians.
Sadly, one of those politicians is the prime minster, who has visited a shrine that includes war criminals and appointed people to government positions who take a reactionary line on World War II.
Not only sadly, but loudly. It isn’t just Prime Minister Abe. This nationalistic, conservative leadership that uses the rewriting of history to bolster its regime is something we see now with Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Modi, and in Poland and Hungary.
We may start seeing it here after November.
Well, I don’t think it will change our narrative of WWII. [Laughs.] It may change other things. But my point is that the larger story has changed but the bomb story hasn’t changed. Here, I don’t think the story has changed but the attitude is changing. The people who fought in WWII will not change their narrative. They tried to put it on a postage stamp saying, “Atomic Bomb Hastened War’s End.” But then you have future generations that are not all the same.
In Hiroshima they start with the bomb, although now they acknowledge there was a war that ended with the bomb. But the Americans end the bomb story in 1945, and what wasn’t acknowledged was the arms race and radiation sickness. This was the subject of the Enola Gay controversy at the Smithsonian in 1995, where veterans did not want to acknowledge radiation sickness. The Japanese ignore everything before Hiroshima and the Americans ignore everything after Nagasaki. Both of the stories are truncated.
There is one other point. The atomic bombings were a continuation of civilian bombing, area bombing, carpet bombing, that every country did in World War II. It was universal. So if we are talking about the lessons of Hiroshima, we need to talk about the lessons of civilian bombings generally.
I was just about to ask what lesson you thought people in both countries should end up taking away from the visit.
It is not going to be this! What I am arguing is that these bombs are often singled out but they are a subset. It is a new gadget to do the same horrific thing. It is not going to come up. This is what I mean about the bomb narrative being so solid.
But I think the main thing of the visit—like most things involving the politics of memory—is symbolic. It is a symbolic gesture. It says, “We don’t believe nuclear war is right and we don’t want to see it ever again.” That’s what the banner in Hiroshima says: “We shall not repeat this evil.” The New York Times asked what everyone else does: Does this refer to the bomb or the war? Yes, there is an ambiguity there. Actually it means both. And so that’s what Obama is saying with his visit. We are saying that this sort of suffering is terrible, and that’s good. Instead of having a huge military parade, which have gotten bigger and bigger in Moscow and Beijing, this is another way of talking about the war.
Second World War Articles from 2016 - History
By Michael D. Hull
Just after midnight on September 3, 1939, a stylish young former socialite from Boston, Massachusetts, made her way toward London aboard the Harwich boat train after crossing the English Channel.
Virginia Cowles, a foreign correspondent for the Hearst newspaper group and the London Sunday Times, was returning from a stint in Berlin when she saw flashes on the southern horizon and heard a series of distant explosions. Before climbing onto a train bound for London’s Liverpool Street Station, Miss Cowles asked a dockworker if war had been declared. “Not yet,” he replied, “but I hope it won’t be long now. This waiting around is making us all nervous.”
When the newswoman reached the outskirts of the British capital, she was met by torrential rain and realized that she had witnessed a violent thunderstorm and not the outbreak of a European war. Yet Miss Cowles, who had been awakened early on September 1 by the heavy tread of storm troopers on Berlin’s Unter den Linden, still felt apprehensive.
At the same time as Virginia Cowles was heading into London, young Lieutenant Peter Parton of the Royal Artillery was watching a late showing of Wuthering Heights at the cinema in the little Somerset port of Watchet. Halfway through the projection of the newly released film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, an ominous message was suddenly flashed on the screen: “All officers and soldiers return to your barracks immediately.” Parton feared that, in the British vernacular of the time, “the balloon was about to go up.”
Tethered by heavy wire cables, thousands of large barrage balloons were hoisted over many British cities, ports, and military installations as a deterrent to dive-bombers and other low-flying enemy aircraft. They downed seven German planes in February-March 1941 and later destroyed 231 V-1 rockets.
Lieutenant Parton was right on the night of September 2, 1939. Several years of European appeasement and months of diplomatic maneuvering and mounting tension were coming to an abrupt end. Two days before, on Friday, September 1, massed German forces had burst without warning into Poland. British and French ultimatums to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler for a withdrawal went unanswered, and it was now just a matter of hours before the hostilities would widen into full-scale war.
A mere two decades after the end of World War I, Europe was on the brink of becoming embroiled in an even more catastrophic struggle—an inevitable yet unnecessary war. It could have been averted in the 1930s if the free nations had stood together firmly against the spread of tyrannical fascism across Europe. Now, peace had drained away like grains of sand in an hourglass.
“A Day of Unusual Beauty”
Sunday, September 3, 1939, dawned as a sunny, dreamlike day of apprehension that would be forever remembered by all who experienced it. Yorkshire-born novelist Storm (Margaret) Jameson poetically recalled “a day of unusual beauty clear, hot sun dazzingly white clouds beneath a blue zenith a high, soft wind.”
While immaculately dressed diplomats still scurried about the European capitals that morning, British Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain presided over an emergency session of his cabinet in London. In Paris, French government officials insisted on trying to gain more time to mobilize their powerful army before going ahead with another ultimatum to Berlin, but British service chiefs and some cabinet members wanted to get on with it. Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha called for a 6 am deadline.
Eventually, it was agreed that Berlin would be issued with an ultimatum expiring at 11 am, demanding that its forces cease hostilities in Poland. After the shameful era of appeasement during which the well-meaning Chamberlain had mistakenly believed that Hitler’s word could be trusted, the honor of the British Empire was now at stake. As David Margesson, chief whip of the House of Commons, told a colleague, “It must be war, old boy. There’s no other way out.”
It was left to Sir Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, to deliver a note to Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, at 9 am (8 am London time). The pompous, bumbling Ribbentrop left it to Hitler’s chief interpreter, Paul Schmidt, to accept the British ultimatum. Henderson liked Schmidt and told him, “I am sincerely sorry that I must hand such a document to you in particular.”
Schmidt had overslept for the 9 am meeting but was just in time to take delivery of the note from Henderson. The German made his way from the Foreign Ministry building in Wilhelmstrasse to the Reich Chancellery, where he slowly read the ultimatum for Hitler and Ribbentrop. “When I finished,” Schmidt reported, “there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him.” Moments later, the Führer turned to Ribbentrop with a fierce look and asked, “What now?” Schmidt withdrew.
The note gave Hitler three hours in which to order a cessation of operations in Poland. He saved his wrath for his inner circle—Ribbentrop, Nazi Party deputy leader Rudolph Hess, SS chief Heinrich Himmler, and Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels. The Poles, ranted Hitler, were just a miserable rabble, and it was a “disgrace” to treat them as a sovereign nation. The British understood this, he said, yet they were prepared to pillory him for “recognizing natural realities.”
France’s ultimatum was telephoned to the French Embassy in Berlin, and at 10 am in London BBC radio announcer Alvar Liddell told listeners to expect a statement from the prime minister in an hour’s time. Just before 11 (London time) on that fateful morning, the Paris ultimatum was delivered to the German Foreign Ministry by French Ambassador Robert Coulondre. This time, Ribbentrop condescended to meet him. The French envoy asked if Ribbentrop was able to give a satisfactory reply to the French demand for a German withdrawal from Poland. The foreign minister replied in the negative and accused France of aggression.
Meanwhile, in London, air-raid sirens echoed across the rooftops. But they were premature.
Miles away in Munich that day, Gauleiter Adolf Wagner was handed an envelope by a 25-year-old English socialite. She was Unity Valkyrie Mitford, a blue-eyed blonde and the unmarried daughter of the eccentric Lord Redesdale. Wagner opened the envelope to discover a suicide note. A member of Hitler’s Munich salon, Unity had fallen in love with the Führer and had pleaded with him to maintain good relations with Britain. The prospect of war between the two countries was too much for her, she wrote, so she had decided to “put an end to herself.” Unity went into Munich’s Englischer Garten and shot herself in the head with a small-caliber pistol.
Hitler ordered specialists to care for her, and she was taken to a clinic. As soon as she was able to travel, Unity was sent home to England in a special railway car by way of Switzerland. Eight years later, she succumbed to the bullet lodged in her brain.
11 in the Morning at No. 10
At 11:14 on the morning of Sunday, September 3, mustached, 70-year-old Prime Minister Chamberlain—the principled, soft-spoken peacemaker who had exhausted himself trying to avert a European war—stared balefully at a microphone in the cabinet room at No. 10 Downing Street and broadcast to the British people. His heart was heavy. BBC announcer Liddell observed that the prime minister looked “crumpled, despondent, and old.” He had done everything he could, said Chamberlain, but there had been no response to the latest ultimatum, so “a state of war exists between His Majesty and Germany as from 11 o’clock today.”
In a resigned, mournful tone, the prime minister declared, “You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done, and that would have been more successful….We and France are today, in fulfillment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poland, who is so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people. We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace….
“Now, may God bless you all. May He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against—brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression, and persecution. And against them I am certain that the right will prevail.”
Chamberlain was courageously declaring a war he had not wanted. Peace would have been preferable. He had hoped that Hitler would somehow prove to be a man of his word, yet, by the beginning of 1939, he had few illusions about him. That March, Chamberlain told a guest that the Nazi dictator was “the blackest devil he had ever met.” The prime minister had come to recognize the strong possibility of war, and, like much of the British and French public, was ready to accept it.
Few BBC listeners were surprised by Chamberlain’s announcement, but most were nevertheless stunned into silence. For many, grim memories of 1914-1918 were still too clear.
King George VI, a young Royal Navy midshipman when hostilities broke out early in August 1914, wrote in his diary, “Those of us who had been through the Great War never wanted another.” Devastated by the prospect that war was now inevitable, famed pacifist author Vera Brittain, a nurse in World War I, had listened tearfully to the prime minister’s broadcast with her children in their village home. Then she wandered into the nearby woods. “In the sunny quiet of the gorse and heather,” she recalled later, “it was impossible to take in the size of the catastrophe.”
Across the British capital in Hayes, Middlesex, five-year-old Douglas Higgins was sitting halfway up the staircase in his home when Chamberlain spoke. “I had never known a silence before or seen such worry etched on my family’s faces,” he recalled later. “What did it all mean? Apparently, we were at war with Germany. What was war and who was Germany? I rushed downstairs and clung to my mother, who was gently sobbing. I had never seen her cry before, and hated the man on the wireless for making her cry.”
Chamberlain told a packed House of Commons, “This country is now at war with Germany,” and then, according to a Daily Telegraph reporter, “a profound silence fell upon the House.” It was a silence, he wrote, “not of surprise or anxiety, as the calm, stern faces testified, but of grim satisfaction…. Hundreds of men on the crowded green benches drew a long breath of relief that the issue was declared and joined beyond a peradventure.” The diplomats’ gallery in the House was packed that day with ambassadors from France, Poland, the United States, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, China, Argentina, and Brazil.
After the surrender of the war-ravaged Polish capital of Warsaw, German troops goose step through the shattered city’s streets. The devastation of Warsaw was a harbinger of the destruction to come as the Nazi war machine rolled across Europe.
The Daily Telegraph recorded, “The truth was that Parliament, and indeed the nation, had been on tenterhooks for weeks, even months, waiting for war. Nobody was unaware of the ominous events on mainland Europe the papers had been full of advice on air-raid procedures, and the Navy had already taken part in a plan to evacuate Polish ships in anticipation of a conflict.”
“A Calm That Was Deeply Impressive”
The reaction of ordinary Britons to the war declaration was varied. After the initial shock, some felt a sense of relief that all the uncertainty of the past few weeks was over. For people in church on that sunny Sunday morning, it seemed that they were in the right place at such a momentous time. Others thought of survival rather than sermons and set about getting prepared for the worst—making sure there was an air-raid shelter for the whole family and plenty of canned food in the cupboards.
Children old enough to comprehend were excited by the news there was a possibility that schools might be closed. Because of a widespread fear of German air raids, some city children had already been evacuated in the days before war was declared, and they were with their host families in the provinces when they heard the news.
In London, according to a reporter, news of the declaration of war was taken with “a calm that was deeply impressive.” He wrote, “In an extensive tour, I did not see emotion of any kind.” After the air-raid sirens sounded, streets were cleared speedily. Precautions had been taken. Sandbags were piled high outside municipal buildings, offices, stores, and police stations, and crisscross strips of antiblast tape covered plate glass windows. Firefighting vehicles were on the streets, and policemen, auxiliaries, and bicycle-riding air raid wardens wore steel helmets.
After the premature alerts, hundreds of Londoners carrying gas masks strolled good-humoredly along the thoroughfares. Others wandered and sunbathed in the city’s many leafy parks, as on any other fine Sunday afternoon. Restaurants and cafés were filled.
Britain Prepares For War
But, despite the evident calm and stoicism the British were preparing methodically for war. The War Office opened additional recruiting offices in various London boroughs and suburbs, and urgent calls went out for dockworkers and volunteers for the Royal Engineers, the Army Service Corps, the Medical Corps, and the Ordnance Corps. Conscription had been introduced in April 1939. The War Office also appealed for applications for commissions in the ground forces. Starting on the day war broke out, young men flocked to take the king’s shilling and enlist. Outside the recruiting office in Scotland Yard, an eager group of men hammered on the closed gates and chanted, “Open up, please. We want to join the Army!”
The government’s evacuation program proceeded smoothly, and thousands more women and children crowded city railway stations to board trains taking them to Berkshire, Devon, Somerset, and other rural and seaside counties. By the night of September 4, an estimated three million evacuees were expected to be billeted in new homes, almost half of them from greater London.
Chamberlain and his advisers were taking immediate actions to place the nation on a war footing. It was announced that the seat of government would remain in London for as long as possible, and precautionary measures were issued to prevent people from crowding together and increasing casualty risks from air raids. Instructions were given for the closing of entertainment centers, including cinemas, theaters, and indoor and outdoor sports facilities. Sea travel was limited.
Following an August 1914 precedent, the government declared that Monday, September 4, would be a bank holiday so that financial institutions could complete measures for adapting themselves to the emergency. The stock exchange was also ordered to close. Meanwhile, Whitehall announced that a food rationing program was in place and would be activated within two weeks. The five food groups coming under the system would be meat, butter and margarine, bacon and ham, cooking fats, and sugar.
In Paris, the French ultimatum to Germany expired at 5 pm on September 3. At the Ministry of National Defense, Prime Minister Edouard Daladier conferred with Admiral Jean Darlan, chief of French Naval Forces General Maurice Gamelin, the national defense chief of staff and other high-ranking officials. A decree was issued to institute a seven-day working week in all state establishments.
A World-Wide Response
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Washington, D.C., President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary, Stephen T. Early, announced that a proclamation was being drawn up to invoke the Neutrality Act, prohibiting the sale or export of arms and munitions to all belligerents. However, to prevent the act from favoring aggressors, an amendment bill had been introduced in the Senate on June 27, proposing a system to favor America’s closest allies, Britain and France.
President Roosevelt had no choice but to promise his people that he would keep America out of the war. Popular support for isolationism was loud and strong. “There will be no blackout of peace in the United States,” declared FDR. Privately, however, he stayed in regular contact with Britain, searching for ways in which he could help without jeopardizing neutrality.
The far-flung British dominions rallied swiftly to the motherland. Australia proclaimed a state of war three hours after Chamberlain’s announcement, and Prime Minister Robert G. Menzies declared in Canberra, “The great family of British nations is now involved in a struggle which we must, at all costs, win. We believe in our hearts that we shall win…. We do not know what lies ahead or the length of the journey, but I urge calmness, confidence, and resolution.”
New Zealand promised “the fullest possible support” to Britain on September 3, and Prime Minister Michael J. Savage pledged, “We range ourselves without fear behind Britain. Where she goes, we go. Where she stands, we stand.”
Canada also vowed assistance to Britain. After a two-hour emergency session in Ottawa on September 3, the cabinet announced that Parliament would meet at the earliest possible date, September 7. Prime Minister William L. Mackenzie King informed Chamberlain, “In the event of the United Kingdom becoming engaged in war in the effort to resist aggression, the government of Canada have unanimously decided, as soon as Parliament meets, to seek its authority for effective cooperation by Canada at the side of Britain.” Canada would officially declare war on September 10, and the first drafts of the 1st Canadian Division sailed for England the following December.
In Cape Town, there was a fierce debate on September 3 over whether South Africa should enter the war. The prime minister, General James B. Hertzog, had pursued a policy of neutrality, but opposition to his stance grew so strong that he was deposed on September 5. He was replaced by Field Marshal Jan C. Smuts, who formed a new government and immediately declared war on Germany. A Boer War commando who had fought the British and then become a staunch ally, the widely revered Smuts had a close relationship with politician Winston Churchill dating back to World War I. He would be made an honorary field marshal of the British Army in 1941.
The Making of the British War Cabinet
Prime Minister Chamberlain announced on the evening of September 3 that King George had approved the makeup of a nine-member war cabinet along the lines of one established in December 1916. Its members were Chamberlain Sir John Simon, chancellor of the exchequer Viscount Edward W. Halifax, foreign secretary Fleet Admiral Lord Alfred Chatfield, minister of defense coordination Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty Hore-Belisha, secretary of war Sir Kingsley Wood, air secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, lord privy seal, and Lord Maurice Hankey, minister without portfolio. Sir John Anderson was named home secretary, and Anthony Eden became dominion secretary.
The king also made three appointments at the War Office: General John V. Gort, a World War I Victoria Cross winner, as commander of British Field Forces, General Sir Edmund “Tiny” Ironside, a colorful, bilingual veteran of World War I and Allied commander of the 1918-1919 Russian campaign, as chief of the Imperial General Staff, and General Sir Walter Kirke as Home Forces commander.
“There May be Dark Days Ahead”
As the British laid down war plans on that fateful evening of September 3, other national leaders issued passionate calls for resolve against German aggression. Prime Minister Daladier broadcast to the French people, saying, “We are fighting to defend our land, our homes, and our liberty. Poland has been the victim of the most brutal and cynical of aggressions. The responsibility for the bloodshed rests wholly on the Hitlerite government. The fate of peace was in the hands of Hitler. He has willed war. I salute with emotion and affection our young soldiers who are now going to accomplish the sacred duty which we have ourselves carried out…. Each of us is at his post, on the soil of France, in the land of liberty where respect for human dignity finds one of its last refuges.”
Within days, the British Expeditionary Force led by Lord Gort would cross the English Channel to support the French.
Far away in the Himalayan resort of Simla on the evening of September 3, the Marquess of Linlithgow, viceroy of India, called on the dominion to “take up Germany’s challenge to the great principles of humanity, justice, and morality.” Meanwhile, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the Spanish leader, broadcast an appeal from the ancient city of Burgos. He urged all nations to avoid the horrors of war such as his country had recently suffered and to do their utmost to localize the new conflict.
Wearing the uniform of a fleet admiral, Britain’s modest, shy monarch broadcast from Buckingham Palace at 6 pm on September 3. “In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history,” he said, “I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war. Over and over again, we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies. But it has been in vain.”
On September 1, 1939, the first day of World War II in Europe, German troops break a wooden barrier on the Polish frontier. Hitler had fabricated a Polish provocation to justify the Nazi invasion of its eastern neighbor to the world.
Urging his people to “stand calm, firm, and united at this time of trial,” he continued prophetically, “The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield. But we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then, with God’s help, we shall prevail. May He bless and keep us all.”
Reactions to the declaration of war tended to be calm and subdued in the Western capitals on September 3. The celebrated British journalist and sage Malcolm Muggeridge reported, “Like a swimmer tired of battling with a contrary current, abandoning the struggle, and letting himself be carried along by what he had long tried to resist, this last crisis was left to take its course.” Lord Halifax and his undersecretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, went for a walk that evening in the Buckingham Palace gardens.
On the streets of Paris, newspaper headlines announced, “War: England in a state of war with Germany since 11:00 this morning!” While there was a mood of “something between resolution and resignation” in the provinces, Senator Jacques Bardoux observed that the people of Paris showed an attitude of “moderation and simplicity, of silence and firmness here, as in Berlin, the cheering crowds of 1914 were absent.”
In the German capital, handsome Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and would-be production minister, sensed “a desolate mood.” The war declaration echoed from loudspeakers on the streets, and reporter William L. Shirer of CBS watched citizens listen attentively. Their faces reflected “astonishment and depression,” he told American radio listeners, and there was “no cheering, no throwing of flowers, no war fever.” Elsewhere in Germany, the mood was also somber. General Franz Halder, the able chief of the general staff, confided his apprehension to a fellow officer. “Now the English, too,” he said. “The Englishman is tenacious. Now it will last a long time.”
The Fall of Chamberlain, the Rise of Churchill
Prime Minister Chamberlain emerged from the uneasy 1930s and the drift to world war as a tragic, broken figure. Universally branded as a weak-kneed appeaser who sold out to tyranny, he lacked knowledge of foreign affairs and often ignored the advice of Foreign Ministry officials. Yet he was a principled, determined statesman who strove to maintain peace and gain time for rearmament. His fatal weakness lay in his inability to comprehend the type of man with whom he was dealing and continuing to strive for compromise for far longer than was prudent.
Chamberlain’s efforts, starting with his election in May 1937, broke him. A week after the outbreak of war, he told his sister, Ida, that the “days of stress and strain” had caused him to lose all sense of time. “Life is just one long nightmare,” he said.
Heartbroken and discredited, he remained in office, but his political days were numbered as Britain hastily rearmed and struggled along with France to gain enough strength to hold Hitler’s war machine at bay. After only a few months, the ill-fated Anglo-French campaign in April-June 1940 to dislodge German invaders in Norway proved to be his undoing. Chamberlain lost parliamentary and public confidence and was forced to resign on May 10. A national coalition government was created with the confident, irrepressible Winston Churchill as its head.
Chamberlain remained as leader of the Conservative Party and served in the Churchill cabinet as lord president of the council. But illness forced him to resign in October 1940, and he succumbed to cancer the following month.
The warrior Churchill, whose indomitable spirit became the beacon for the Allied cause during the rest of the war, described his predecessor as “alert, businesslike, opinionated, and self-confident in a very high degree…. He conceived himself able to comprehend the whole field of Europe, and indeed the world.… His all-pervading hope was to go down in history as the great peacemaker.”
Second World War Articles from 2016 - History
By Colonel James W. Hammond
The definitive combat unit of comparable strength among the forces of the world during the 20th century was the division. Not all divisions, however, have been of the same size. The number of men in Allied and Axis divisions during World War II varied considerably. The number of men in an American division also varied depending on the type of division, for example, infantry, airborne, light, mechanized, armored, or Marine Corps. Manning of American divisions even varied as the war progressed, and reorganizations were made to ensure the most efficient use of manpower and to reflect the tactical deployment in the various theaters of the world. Although a standard division might be desirable, it was not always viable. Tanks, for instance, were suited to the plains of Europe but of less use in the steaming jungles of New Guinea.
A division has been defined as “a major administrative and tactical unit/formation which combines in itself the necessary arms and services for sustained combat, larger than a brigade/regiment and smaller than a corps.” Inherent in such a definition is that a division is a combat unit that contains maneuver elements, infantry, or armor fire support elements, mainly artillery but also tank or antitank units and logistical or service support elements. The last includes motor transport, engineer, maintenance, supply, medical, and communications units. These three legs— maneuver, fire support, and logistics—enable a division to conduct sustained combat operations.
The Development of the Modern Army Division
Although the Civil War armies and the army sent to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in 1898 had units called divisions, they were mainly infantry or cavalry and lacked the other organic elements that constitute a modern division. The first real divisions of America’s armed forces were those sent to France in 1917-1918. They numbered more than 28,000 men and were more than twice the size of those of the other Allies or Central Powers. American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) divisions consisted of two infantry brigades of two regiments each three artillery regiments, two of medium and one of heavier artillery an engineer regiment plus the various housekeeping units of supply, transport (some truck but mostly horse-drawn), medical, sanitation, supply, and signal. The rifle companies, of which there were four in a battalion, were more than 250 strong. There were three squads of eight men in each platoon, but the companies had seven platoons apiece. The infantry regiments had three battalions. Due to their composition of four regiments of two brigades, this organization was known as the “square division.”
The square division was the standard Army formation for most of the period between the world wars. Although mostly paper formations and vastly undermanned, the Regular Army (RA), National Guard (NG) and Organized Reserve (OR) divisions were square divisions. The difference between the NG and OR divisions was that the former were multistate units whose regiments were under the governors of their respective states until called to federal service while the latter were cadres of Reserve officers and noncommissioned officers for mobilization. This was consistent with the reforms made by Secretary of War Elihu Root after the difficulties of the Spanish-American War, which then provided for an orderly, expandable Army.
From Squares to Triangles
In the mid-1930s, there was a public reawakening concerning the armed forces. The administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a measure to get the Depression-stalled economy going again, decided that deficit spending to fund public works would be a prudent move. Included in such public works were warships for the Navy. The Army also benefited in that installations throughout the country were improved and even some air bases were constructed for the Army Air Corps.
The thinkers in the Army had never been idle, and they welcomed the opportunity to “get their nose under the tent” and share in the renewed interest in the armed forces. Although the Army was still saddled with the weaponry of World War I, a decade and a half had brought technical improvement. The biggest was in motor transport. Infantry could be given greater mobility moving to the battlefield, and units could be supplied more quickly. The reduction in time for movement could be translated into a reduction of manpower to provide the cutting edge. Firepower had been improved to include semiautomatic rifles, mortars, artillery, tanks, and aircraft.
A word about tanks is appropriate. Tanks had been an Allied innovation in World War I to break the stalemate of trench warfare. The AEF had formed a Tank Corps. It was disbanded after the war and what were formerly “tanks” were transferred to the infantry as “combat cars.” Since tanks had a connotation of offense, the euphemism was a way of appeasing a public, which would support an armed force for defense but abhorred any hint of its use offensively.
Army thinkers began to reappraise the tactics of the battlefield and the type of units that would have to fight. In the world war, infantry regiments attacked in a column of battalions in linear waves. Battalions of a regiment would move successively across no man’s land to take the enemy trenches after artillery had neutralized the defenders. The two lead battalions suffered relatively high casualties, but the breakthrough could be exploited by the third, or reserve battalion. A concept of “two up and one back” emerged. It was just a short step to applying this concept at all levels within a division. Thus was born the “triangular division.”
The Factor of Three
The factor of three was applied at all levels in the new, albeit experimental, division. Three squads made up a platoon. Three platoons were a rifle company. Three rifle companies with a weapons and headquarters company made up an infantry battalion. Three infantry battalions with a headquarters and service company were an infantry regiment. The division had three infantry regiments. Field artillery in the division consisted of three light battalions of three four-gun batteries and a medium battalion of four-gun batteries. In the initial artillery regiment of the first triangular division, circa 1936, the light battalions had 75mm howitzers and the medium battalion had 105mm howitzers. By the time war came, the light howitzers were 105mm and the mediums were 155mm.
These were two of the three legs of the triangular division. The third leg was rounded out by a reconnaissance troop, an engineer battalion, a medical battalion, and companies of ordnance, quartermaster, signal, and division headquarters personnel. There was also a military police platoon and a division band. Medical detachments were with the infantry and artillery to provide forward support on the battlefield.
The 1936 triangular division had 13,552 officers and men, of which 7,416 were in the three infantry regiments. After an initial field test, the recommended division in 1938 was reduced to 10,275, of which 6,987 were infantry. In June 1941, the division had risen in strength to 15,245, with 10,020 infantrymen. Fourteen months later, in August 1942, the division had increased to 15,514, but the infantry had been reduced to 9,999. A further reduction was proposed in early 1943, to 13,412 with 8,919 infantrymen.
The organization that fought the war (beginning in August 1943) was one of 14,255 officers and men, with 9,354 in the infantry. During the last year of the war, the standard infantry division had a strength of 14,037, with 9,204 in the infantry regiments. During all the reorganizations and changes, a triangular division was about half the size of the square division it replaced.
In addition to increased mobility there were other reasons for the fine-tuning of the infantry division during the war. The primary one, of course, was combat experience. Weaknesses were determined and remedied. Strengths were evaluated and reinforced. There were mundane reasons as well for tinkering with the size of an infantry division. Reducing the size from 15,514 (August 1942 level) to 14,255 (July 1943 level) meant a savings of 1,259 men. Thus for every 11 divisions, the savings in manpower would generate a 12th. Another reason was the wartime shortage of shipping. Slightly smaller divisions took up fewer “boat spaces.” This was important since the Army had to cross the oceans to fight the enemies. When the forces for D-Day and beyond were being built up in the United Kingdom, the two largest transoceanic liners, Britain’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, could “comfortably” carry a U.S. infantry division every other week. This was no minor factor. Another reason to keep the infantry division to the smallest size consistent with projecting its combat power offensively was the finite manpower pool in the United States.
Soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division file ashore from Omaha Beach several days after the D-Day landings in Normandy. During the course of World War II, the Army and Marine Corps changed the configuration of their combat divisions to make them more efficient.
A Draft for the “Arsenal of Democracy”
While the number of American men of combat age who were physically fit for induction was between 20 and 25 million, there was competition for the pool other than the Army’s infantry. Service troops, such as engineers, supply men, and others were needed to make frontline infantry effective. The Army Air Corps, by then the Army Air Forces, had a large claim on manpower. The Navy and Marine Corps needed men. And, in addition to its fighting forces in the field, the United States was both the “arsenal of democracy” and the breadbasket of the Allies. Although many women labored in the factories and the fields, a large body of men was needed to turn out the weapons for the United States and its Allies.
In late 1942, the government took control of manpower. The draft, which had been instituted in 1940 for one year for selected 21-year-olds and older inductees, was extended to 18-year-olds, and voluntary enlistments for all those over 18 were suspended. All males subject to the draft were inducted and assigned to each service according to the needs at the time. Since the Navy and Marines had been enlisting 17-year-olds long before the war, some found this a way to avoid the draft before their 18th birthday. Last, by completely controlling manpower, the draft boards could defer skilled workers and farmers, often only temporarily. This last point was important because workers could be gainfully employed until the Army was ready to use them in uniform. More than one GI in the last years of the war encountered a truck, tank, or howitzer that he had helped build on the assembly line.
Old Divisions vs New Divisions
In 1917-1918, the AEF sent 43 divisions to France. Eight were RA, 17 were NG, and 18 National Army (NA) or divisions raised from regiments that had not existed before. These were all square divisions, but three NG and three NA divisions were converted into depot divisions for the Services of Supply. Likewise, two NG and one NA division were disbanded to replace casualties. After the war, the RA had three numbered infantry divisions and a cavalry division. There were two unnumbered divisions in the insular possessions: the Hawaiian and Philippine Divisions. The NG units returned to their respective states as regiments. As previously noted, the Tank Corps was disbanded. The Army had a maximum authorized strength, but this was never reached because the real limiting factor was paltry funding.
When war came to Europe in 1939 and the Axis ran wild in 1940, America saw the need to rearm quickly. The Navy was well on its way to building a two-ocean navy after the fall of France in 1940. The Army Air Corps was given similar priority. Both of these were Roosevelt’s darlings. For two decades the Army had been the poor relation.
This was changed. Five more RA infantry divisions were activated during 1939-1941. An additional RA cavalry division was activated. Reorganization revived the Tank Corps as the armored force. The NG was called into federal service, and 17 divisions were activated between September 1940 (when the first draftees also were inducted) and March 1941 as camps were built to quarter them. Four RA armored divisions were activated. The Hawaiian Division was split into a RA division and an additional Army of the United States division (AUS). AUS meant that no previous cadre organization existed as a framework for the new divisions.
A division of the U.S. Army is shown on parade at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 1939. By that time, Army divisions such as this one were composed of three regiments.
As would be expected, the pre-Pearl Harbor divisions were the “old” divisions and those subsequently organized were the “new” divisions. The NG divisions entered active service under the square division organization and were converted to triangular. One of these, the 27th Infantry Division, was deployed to Hawaii before it was converted. The ranks of all the old divisions were brought up to strength by draftees and new recruits finishing basic training. They were “fillers” in Army parlance.
Equipment for the old divisions was a problem. Factories were turning out arms for Britain, which had evacuated its expeditionary force from the European continent at Dunkirk but had abandoned most of its equipment. Roosevelt had assured arms production for Britain with the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. Hitler’s attack on Russia in June 1941 brought Russia under the Lend-Lease provisions as well. Thus, there developed competition between the Allied forces fighting Hitler and the emerging U.S. Army preparing to fight if necessary. In the meantime, training went on in the United States. Newspaper photographs and newsreels of the time showed GIs in the field with wooden mock-ups labeled “howitzer” or trucks with “tank” emblazoned on their sides.
Raising New Divisions During World War II
In the meantime, the Army planners and logisticians were systematically setting about raising the new divisions. It was methodical and orderly at first.
When a division was designated for activation, the War Department selected its key officers about three months in advance. These included the commanding general, his assistant division commander, and his artillery commander. All were general officer billets, but the selectees did not necessarily have those ranks initially. Promotion came with performance. In addition, key staff officers and commanders were designated shortly after the commanding general was assigned. This enabled him to choose his subordinates from a slate prepared by the War Department. The criterion for the slate of eligibles was based on records of performance.
In addition, the small RA of the interwar years included that intangible known as “service reputation.” Most officers knew most others. The key officers of the division to be formed were assigned special schooling such as the Command and General Staff Course (C&GSC), Advanced Artillery Course, and even condensed courses in automotive maintenance, logistics, and communications.
Just before actual activation, a cadre of key junior and middle-grade officers and noncommissioned officers was assigned. These came from the old division that had been made parent division to the new outfit. This could have been a weak point because of human nature. A commander would be reluctant to give his best people to someone else. Owing to the high state of professionalism of commanders, this did not occur in the raising of the initial new divisions. Commanders of old RA divisions took pride in the cadres they sent. It was not until later in the war that some commanders of the new divisions that in turn had been made parents to newer divisions forming began to send newer castoffs to cadres.
Upon the activation of a division, the key commanders and staff plus the cadre were joined by fillers and new officers mostly from Officer Candidate School (OCS). The division thus began a training cycle that was to last almost a year before it was deemed deployable. There were three distinct phases—individual training, unit training, and combined arms training. Appropriate testing by the Army Ground Forces (AGF) headquarters was conducted at all phases to ensure the division was up to standard. This continued well into mid-1944 when divisions committed in Europe began to take casualties. Then divisions in training in the United States were raided for their infantrymen who had completed individual training to serve as replacements overseas. Fillers had to start the cycle over again. Many of them came from disbanded antiaircraft battalions in the United States and from discontinued programs.
The U.S. Armored Division
There were other types of divisions in the AGF. Some were experimental and either discarded or retained in limited number. One of the two cavalry divisions, still a square division, was sent overseas to fight as infantry. The other was disbanded, reactivated, and deactivated in North Africa, its personnel being made service troops overseas.
The German blitzkrieg of 1940 alerted the U.S. Army to its need for armored formations, mechanized formations, and airborne units. Divisions of all three types were formed. Only two survived as viable units. The mechanized concept, which envisioned infantry riding to battle swiftly in trucks and half-tracks, was abandoned after troop testing. Those divisions reverted to standard infantry divisions. This decision was made for several reasons. The increase in vehicles placed a maintenance burden on the division, which enlarged its size out of proportion to its combat capability. Transportation to combat or the exploitation of a breakthrough could be furnished by mobile units of higher headquarters. Further, the deployment of a special mechanized division overseas took up more shipping than an infantry division. Standard infantry divisions could have all the advantages of mobility when reinforced by vehicles.
The trend moved away from specialized divisions. Exceptions were the armored division and the airborne division. There were to be 16 of the former and five of the latter. From the organization of the first two armored divisions in July 1940 until September 1943, these were heavily weighted with tanks. A minor modification occurred in January 1945 as a result of combat experience in France.
The initial armored division was 14,620 strong. It had a division headquarters with two subordinate commands capable of forming task forces for tactical employment. These were Combat Commands A and B. The tank component contained 4,848 men in two armored regiments. The regiments had one light and two medium tank battalions, with a total of 232 medium tanks and 158 light tanks. The infantry component was an armored infantry regiment of 2,389 men in three armored infantry battalions of three companies each. The 2,127 artillerymen were in three battalions of three batteries each. The latter served six 105mm self-propelled howitzers.
A pair of National Guard soldiers fires their weapons during maneuvers in Manassas, Virginia. The soldier on the right fires a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
There were a division headquarters and a division service company, signal company, reconnaissance and engineer battalions, and division train. The last had three battalions—maintenance, supply, and medical plus an MP platoon. The tactical concept that generated this formation was that the armored division, wreaking havoc, would punch through the enemy defenses and speed into the enemy’s rear. Fighting in North Africa as well as British experience in the Eastern Desert showed that tanks unsupported by infantry were vulnerable to antitank ambushes and minefields. Thus, the tactical employment of armored divisions was rethought.
In September 1943, the armored division was reduced to 10,937 men. The two armored regiments were eliminated and replaced by three tank battalions of three medium and one light tank company each. There were now 186 medium and 78 light tanks. The two combat commands were kept, but a headquarters reserve command was added. The infantry component was increased to 3,003, with the regiment eliminated and the three armored infantry battalions each increased to 1,001 men still with three companies. Artillery units remained essentially the same. The concept now was for the armored division to exploit the breakthrough of enemy lines made by the infantry divisions. To this end, separate tank battalions were formed from the tanks saved from the armored divisions. These could be used to reinforce an attacking infantry division as needed.
Specialized Infantry Divisions
The U.S. airborne division was conceived in 1942 as a miniature division of 8,500 men. There was a parachute infantry regiment of 1,958 and two glider regiments of 1,605 men each. The artillery included three battalions of three four-gun batteries of 75mm pack howitzers. The vehicles were mostly jeeps and trailers with approximately 400 jeeps and 200 trailers. The Army Air Corps provided the lift for the paratroopers and towed the gliders.
In December 1944, in response to recommendations from a battle-experienced airborne division commander, the size and composition of the airborne division was beefed up. It had 12,979 men in two parachute regiments and one glider regiment. A battalion of 105mm howitzers replaced the 75s. Supporting units were also increased. Only the 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific remained under the old organization.
Experiments were made in light, jungle, and mountain divisions, but all except the last were discarded when it was determined that the standard infantry division could fill the bill in any theater. The 10th Mountain Division was sent to Italy in December 1944 to let its muleskinners and skiers try their hand.
Preparing for the Invasion of France
Two major concerns remained regarding U.S. Army divisions prior to the invasion of France in 1944. One was the total number of divisions required in the Army to ensure victory. The second was how to transport the personnel and equipment to Europe when a trained division was ready to deploy.
The first U.S. Army units sent to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) were an NG infantry division in January 1942 and an RA armored division in March. They debarked in Northern Ireland. In April, an Army infantry division replaced a contingent of Marines in Iceland. In October, combat-loaded divisions sailed from the the UK and the United States for Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Later, divisions were deployed to North Africa for operations in the Mediterranean theater in 1943. Their equipment had been moved separately.
Meanwhile, the buildup for the return to France was ongoing in the UK. A unique logistics concept solved a myriad of problems. The men of a division sailed for camps in England on a deployment schedule. At the same time, equipment was steadily being moved to the UK and stored in depots. Before leaving camp in the United States for a port of embarkation, a deploying division turned over its equipment to a new division being activated in the camp. On arrival in the UK, a complete equipment outfit of organizations, not individuals, was issued to the division.
The -Division Gamble”
The question of the number of divisions was more complicated. There was a minimum of one year of lead time before a division was ready for deployment. After the fall of France there was also a question of Britain and its armed forces being able to hold out. Would the United States have to face the Axis threat alone? Then, when Russia was invaded there was the question of its survivability. If Russia and Britain were knocked out of the war, more U.S. divisions would be needed. As many as 200 divisions were estimated for the worst case scenario.
As the course of the war became clearer, a decision was made in early 1943 on the number of Army divisions needed to win the war. It was called the “90-division gamble.” The Philippine Division had surrendered in 1942. The 2nd Cavalry Division was later to be deactivated, reducing the total of Army divisions to 89. The last Army division was activated in August 1943 and deployed at the end of 1944. All 89 Army divisions went overseas. Only two, an infantry division in Hawaii and an airborne division in France, did not see combat.
In addition to the 89 Army divisions, there were six Marine divisions—all of which fought in the Pacific. Marine divisions used the triangular organization of the Army but had units peculiar to their amphibious mission. These included, eventually, a shore party battalion to organize the supplies coming over the beach and an amphibious tractor battalion. The standard Marine division could be tailored for a specific operation by being reinforced with specific units such as naval construction battalions (SeaBees). A reinforced Marine division could run to about 20,000 men. With the opening of the drive across the Pacific, Marine rifle companies came up with an innovation called the fire team. A fire team was a four-man unit built around the Browning Automatic Rifle. Three fire teams led by a sergeant formed a squad, one of three in a platoon, placing heavy firepower in the assault waves which struck Japanese-held islands.
By the end of the war, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps had deployed 95 divisions around the globe. Ninety-eight percent of these had engaged in combat, and the success of their deployment and combat experience was due in large part to reorganization and preparation efforts by higher-echelon commanders.
It is a pity this article does not give some cross comparison between a US Division and Divisions in other combatant countries. For example, by 1945 the US and USSR both had about 12 million men under arms, but the USA had only about 100 divisions whilst the USSR had about 500. Superficially this discrepancy suggests a bloated US military with large enrolled numbers but fewer fighting men than the Soviets. This, however, is misleading as the US provided massive logistical backup, while the Soviet armed forces were more medieval in nature, with a very small logistical tail.. An article explaining this discrepancy would be educative.
The winter of 1942 saw Russia defending Stalingrad from German capture. These German tanks aided in the battle, which ultimately left the city in ruins.
Three days after Congress declared war on Japan, Germany responded by declaring war on the United States.
Japan had an advance pledge of support from Hitler in the event of war with the United States. Now President Roosevelt faced a two-ocean war — a true world war. Despite widespread cries for revenge against Japan, the first major decision made by the President was to concentrate on Germany first. The American Pacific Fleet would do its best to contain Japanese expansion, while emphasis was placed on confronting Hitler's troops.
The vast military knowledge of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel — known as "The Desert Fox" — was not enough to keep British and American forces from driving German troops from North Africa in late 1942.
Roosevelt believed that a Nazi-dominated Europe would be far more impregnable that any defenses Japan could build in the Pacific. American scientists worried that, with enough time, German scientists might develop weapons of mass destruction. Once Hitler was defeated, the combined Allied forces would concentrate on smashing Japanese ambitions.
American military leaders favored a far more aggressive approach to attacking Germany than their British counterparts. A cross-channel invasion of France from Britain would strike at the heart of Nazi strength, but the British command was dubious. Winston Churchill feared that should such an operation fail, the loss of human life, military resources, and British morale could be fatal.
Instead, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to implement an immediate blockade of supplies to Germany and to begin bombing German cities and munitions centers. The army would attack Hitler's troops at their weakest points first and slowly advance toward German soil. The plan was known as " closing the ring ." In December 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to attack German holdings in North Africa first.
That maneuver was finally executed in October 1942. Nazi troops were occupying much of the African Mediterranean coast, which had been controlled by France prior to the war. Led by British General Bernard Montgomery , British forces struck at German and Italian troops commanded by the " Desert Fox ," German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel , at El Alamein in Egypt. As the British forced a German retreat, Anglo-American forces landed on the west coast of Africa on November 8 to stage a simultaneous assault. Rommel fought gamely, but numbers and positioning soon forced a German surrender. The Allies had achieved their first important joint victory.
Simultaneously, the Soviets turned the tide against Nazi advances into the Soviet Union by defeating the German forces at Stalingrad. When springtime came in 1943, the Allies had indeed begun to close the ring.
The first American air attack on European enemies came in August 1942. Here, a U.S. Air Force gunner uses a machine gun to fire at German planes.
Once Northern Africa was secured, the Allies took the next step toward Germany by launching invasions of Sicily and Italy. American and British leaders believed that when the Italian people faced occupation of their homeland, they would rise up and overthrow Mussolini. Fearing that the Allies would have a free road up to the border of Austria, German forces began to entrench themselves in Italy.
Despite German presence in Italy, Mussolini was arrested and the Italians surrendered to the Allies on September 3. There was no free road to Austria, however. German forces defended the peninsula ferociously, and even when the European war ended in May 1945, the Allies had failed to capture much of Italy.
Second World War family history – Emily
This is the history of some of Emily’s family who lived through the Second World War in Asia. You will read that Emily’s great grandfather, who was captured by the Japanese army and held as a prisoner of war, never spoke about his experiences (just like Ellie’s Great Uncle Frank). War is often unimaginably terrible and even those who survive are affected by the experience for the rest of their lives.
In 1937, before the war started, my Grandmother moved to Singapore because her father was in the British army.
Life in Singapore was at that time very different from England. The family had servants and they had a pet monkey.
In 1942, Singapore was threatened with invasion by the Japanese army. Singapore is on a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides and the British were confident that the attack would come from the sea. They planned their defence but the Japanese attacked by land, through a jungle. The Japanese surprised the British and successfully captured Singapore.
My Grandma was nearly six years old. She had to escape. She left Singapore with her mother by boat heading for Australia. Her father stayed behind to continue to fight. They caught the last boat which was not bombed or sunk. They had to leave almost all of their possessions including the monkey and all Grandma’s toys. She had her sixth birthday on the boat. They arrived safely in Australia and my grandmother spent the rest of the war in Australia where she went to boarding school.
My Grandma’s father was captured and was a prisoner of war for the next three years. He and other soldiers built a railway. They were treated badly and many prisoners died. My great grandfather survived until the end of the war. He received a letter from King George VI after he returned. He never spoke of his experiences as a prisoner of war.
The letter (on Buckingham Palace notepaper) reads:
The Queen and I bid you a very warm welcome home.
Through all the great trials and sufferings which you have undergone at the hands of the Japanese, you and your comrades have been constantly in our thoughts. We know from the accounts we have already received how heavy those sufferings have been. We know also that these have been endured by you with the highest courage.
We mourn with you the deaths of so many of your gallant comrades.
With all our hearts, we hope that your return from captivity will bring you and your families a full measure of happiness, which you may long enjoy together.
Second World War family history -Mr Milne
We are using actual family history to help understand the Second World War. Please reply to this post with stories about your family’s involvement in, or experience of, the war.
Here are some of Mr Milne’s mother’s memories of wartime bombing of London.
I was living in Finchley in north London as a young child during the bombing of London in the Second World War. Towards the end of the war – 1944 – Hitler was sending across V1 rockets, which were bomb-carrying missiles powered by engines fixed to them (basically, flying bombs). They flew across the English Channel powered by a motor, and when the engine cut out, they dropped.
When you were in bed in the dark all you heard were sirens either signalling an attack was about to begin or signalling the all clear. The V1s, or Doodlebugs as they were called, had a motor, which sounded very similar to the motor on your fridge, so everyone used to turn their fridges off at night so that they didn’t mistake them for the V1s. This particular night my father was out driving an ambulance and my mother was in the flat and she thought she heard the fridge motor and went into the kitchen to turn it off. But she found that she had already turned it off and the motor she could hear was the Doodlebug. At that moment, it switched off to silence, which meant that it was about to drop.
I can remember her throwing herself on top of me and a huge explosion, lots of dust and the doors and windows crashing in. This is my first memory. The bomb actually landed, tragically, on the block of flats on the other side of the road, but it damaged our block so badly that we all had to evacuate the following day and go to wherever we could. We went to friends we had in St. Albans, and stayed with them until the end of the war.
I used to hate the sound of the sirens, the drone of the planes and the sound of the explosions and bombs going off. To block out all these awful sounds I used to rock to and fro in bed and sing so that I couldn’t hear anything. This habit stayed with me long after the war ended – until I was about 14!
(As an aside, although I can’t remember it, I was perhaps in even more danger earlier in the war. I was born in London at the start of the Blitz – the massive nightly bombing of London during 1940 and 1941. Almost as soon as I was born, I had to be evacuated from the hospital, during an air raid, into an underground tube station, which Londoners used as an air-raid shelter. I contracted pneumonia and was lucky to survive.)