Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, one of a string of naval battles that occurred during the months-long campaign to wrest Guadalcanal from Japanese control. The Eastern Solomons was not as significant as the Battle of the Coral Sea or Midway, but it did have an impact on the Guadalcanal campaign. However, the Eastern Solomons is probably best known for a split second of the battle that was caught on film.
Late in the afternoon of 24 August 1942, the USS Enterprise came under attack by Japanese “Val” dive bombers from the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. Skilled maneuvering caused the first nine bombers to miss the Enterprise, but, at 1644 hours, an armor-piercing bomb hit near the ship’s aft elevator and exploded deep in the ship’s bowels. Just thirty seconds later a second bomb struck the Enterprise just a few feet away from the first. This bomb set off a ready service ammunition box for the ship’s starboard 5” anti-aircraft guns, resulting in a large explosion.
Less than a minute later, a third bomb hit the ship just aft of the island. This bomb exploded on contact, blasting a ten-foot hole in the wooden flight deck. It was the detonation of this third bomb that produced one of the most amazing images of the Pacific War. The story behind the image is almost as compelling as the image itself.
The famous image, widely believed to have been taken by Robert Read the moment he was killed.
For many years, the image was credited to Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Robert Read, a still photographer attached to the Enterprise’s Fighting Squadron Six. Read was killed in action on the Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, and it was widely believed that he captured an image of the explosion that killed him.
Unfortunately, Robert Read did not take the photograph that made him famous. In fact, Read was already dead when that photo was captured. Read’s action station was in the aft anti-aircraft gallery on the Enterprise’s starboard side. He was killed instantly when the second bomb set off the 5” ready locker.
Less than one minute after Robert Read was killed, Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Marion Riley captured the image that made Read famous. Riley had set up a motion picture camera on the aft end of the ship’s island and, from his higher vantage point, captured two of the three bombs that struck the Enterprise on 24 August. The famous image that was credited to Read was, in fact, a frame from a motion picture shot by Riley.
This video includes the footage shot by Marion Riley on 24 August 1942. At 2:31 into the video, the second bomb hits the Enterprise, setting off the explosion that killed Robert Read and thirty-four of his shipmates. At the 3:05 mark, Riley captured the detonation that became so famous.
Robert Read became famous for a photograph he did not take. Marion Riley never sought, and rarely receives, credit for taking one of the most famous photos of the war. Both men deserve the highest praise for performing their duty in the heat of battle. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face an enemy with a weapon in hand. It takes even more courage to face that enemy with a camera.
Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Robert Read, killed in action 24 August 1942.
Seventy years ago today, on 24 August 1942, a young girl in New Orleans was thanked in a letter from the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS). Betty’s entertainment efforts were highlighted in our 2009 special exhibit, Entertaining the Troops. Below are images of Betty and some of the costumes she donated to the Museum. She and the other young girls in the troupe from the famed dance academy in New Orleans, Lelia Haller School of Dance, wore these costumes while dancing for servicemen to Carmen, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Ravel’s Bolero .
Brazilian sleeve insignia. Gift of the Bornio family, 2010.299.182
In 1942, Brazilian casualties numbered more than 1,000 at sea, all struck by German U-boats. Though the government under dictatorial President Getúlio Vargas sought neutrality—largely to avoid losing business with the powers on either side of the conflict—the people of Brazil largely commiserated with the Allied cause. On 22 August 1942, 70 years ago today, the nation of Brazil declared war on the Axis powers of Germany and Italy.
Prior to the official declaration, Brazil was cooperating with both the Axis and the Allies, though more economically than militarily. The United States had begun building air bases in Brazil in early 1942, but Brazil was still also working and trading with Germany and Italy. Shortly after agreeing to allow US air bases to be built, and while technically still neutral, Brazil had announced it would no longer deal diplomatically with Germany, Italy, or Japan in late January 1942. Six months later, however, Brazil officially sided with the Allies when it declared war.
The US air bases built in Natal and Recife would support aerial runs over North Africa, as well as to the China-Burma-India Theater. In addition to supporting existing American forces and missions, the Brazilians themselves fought on the ground in Italy under Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army; the Brazilian Air Force was represented in the skies, flying American P-47 Thunderbolt, also over Italy; and the navy of Brazil also actively hunted the ever-present and devastating U-boats that had pushed the Brazilians into war against Germany. The Brazilians had other reasons for entering, as well. They hoped to improve their overall military and sustain that improvement after the war. They would be given much needed equipment and training from the US military.
Nearly 1,000 Brazilian lives of the more than 25,000 sent overseas as part of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB, short for Força Expedicionária Brasileira) were sacrificed in their effort to defeat fascism.
Brazilians at War in Italy Image Gallery
Three Martin Mariner seaplanes returning to base, the Corcovado mountains in the background. 1 February 1944. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
US Navy Martin Mariner seaplanes fly over the Atlantic on their way out from Bahia, Brazil. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
US Navy Martin Mariner seaplanes in flight over Rio de Janeiro, guarding convoys to and from Brazil. 1 February 1944. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
Southwest of Recife, Brazil, where a US air base was located, was a recreation center for men of the US Fourth Fleet. On horseback is Capt. Walter Gorden Roper, commanding officer of the center nicknamed Atlanta after his hometown. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
Recreation center nicknamed "Atlanta" located in Tegipio, Brazil had a horseacing track called Peachtree Downs. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
Hemispheric unity takes to the air at Natal, Brazil. In the US Brasilian Aviation Training Unit, Brazilian airmen are instructed by US Navy experts in operations and maintenance of American-built planes. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
President Vargas inspects ships and troops as the 2nd Brazilian Expeditionary Force embarks. 14 October 1944. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
The 2nd Brazilian Expeditionary Force en route to Europe on the deck of a US Navy transport witness a Crossing-the-Line ceremony. 14 October 1944. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
Greeted by a warm handshake from Lt. A. A. Libby Jr. (right), Lt. Luthers Vargas (left), son of Brazilian President Vargas, is welcomed to the US Naval Air Station at St. Louis, Missouri. 26 December 1943. Gift of Charles Ives, 2011.102
Capt. Eugene Barbero (left), a US ordnance officer assigned to the BEF, and Capt. Wilson Dickerson, a US field artillery officer, after being awarded the Brazilian military Order of Merit by Gen. Joao Batista Mascarenhas. 16 Novemebr 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Gen. Joao Batista Mascarenhas of the BEF pins the Brazilian military Order of Merit on US Capt. Eugene C. Barbero, who was assigned to the BEF. 16 November 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Group of Brazilian soldiers gather around a shell hole on the porch of the BEF command post in Italy.16 November 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Cpl. Marcilio Juiz Pinto of Sao Paolo smiles with his Silver Star which he just received from Lt. Gen. Mark Clark. He is the first Brazilian enlisted man to receve a US decoration for bravery. 16 November 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Capt. Airosa da Silva of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force after being awarded the Bronze Star by Gen. Mark Clark.16 November 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
United Press correspondent Robert Vermillion interviews frontline Brazilian troops Pvt. Edgar Rodriges, Pvt. Gauza, and Lt. Argolo in Italy. 11 December 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Fifth Army in Castel di Casio, Italy. US General Wooten, Brazilian Air Minister Joaquim Pedro Salgado Filho, and US Generals Crittenberger, and Greeley visit Brazilian troops on the IV Corps front. 12 December 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Brazilian Air Minister Filho talks with liaison pilots. Castel di Casio, Italy, 12 December 1944. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
Brazilian solders guard German prisoners in Italy. Gift in Memory of William F. Caddell Sr., 2007.048
The marines nicknamed it Alligator Creek, although the alligators were actually crocodiles. Its official name remains the Battle of the Tenaru River. In reality, though, this first Japanese ground offensive of the Guadalcanal campaign was fought on the shores of the Ilu River. US intelligence had confused the two rivers on the maps the marines were using, and the misnomer stuck.
Although the misnomer was an American mistake, the Japanese would make much more costly errors that resulted in devastating losses for the Ichiki Detachment, named after its respected and battle tested commander, Col. Kiyonao Ichiki. His 28th Regiment had been in the waters off Midway, awaiting the go-ahead to assault the beach, take the island, and then remain as garrison. But the Battle of Midway, as we now know, didn’t quite go the way the Japanese had planned. Ichiki’s 28th Regiment was dropped at Guam, and later moved to Truk. It was from there that Ichiki and 900 of his men headed to Guadalcanal with the mission of retaking Henderson Field, and ultimately kicking marine forces off the island.
The Japanese detachment arrived on Guadalcanal on 19 August. Unbeknownst to the Japanese who saw no sign of the Americans on the island, the marines knew the enemy had landed and were prepared for a fight. Japanese reconnaissance suggested that the bulk of the Allied invasion force had been removed from the island, but in reality the marines were dug in and well hidden to both planes above and troops ashore. This was Japan’s largest error; their intelligence suggested the presence of around 2,000 marines when in reality there were nearly ten times that number. This grave miscalculation fed Ichiki’s arrogance and although a few thousand more Japanese troops were set to arrive within a few days to complement his miniscule force, Ichiki was confident his 900 could easily defeat the 2,000 marines he believed to be on the island. In addition, the Japanese had no respect for the American fighter, who was new to warfare where they had been fighting for nearly five years. And although intelligence had also discouraged Ichiki against frontal assaults, that was exactly what he decided to do.
On this day 70 years ago, the Japanese attempted and failed to retake Henderson Field in what is remembered as the Battle of the Tenaru River. The Americans had the upper hand for two reasons. First, they had ambushed a Japanese patrol, taking down several officers who carried maps illustrating where the marine line was weak. Those areas were reinforced. Second, the now legendary Jacob Vouza, a native Solomon Islander, evaded death to warn the marines of what was coming. He had been captured by the Japanese while patrolling, tied up, tortured for information, bayoneted several times including in his throat and stomach when he refused to speak, and was assumed dead. But he wasn’t. He reportedly chewed himself free and reached US forces in time to warn them that the enemy would be there momentarily.
The Ichiki Detachment arrived shortly after midnight on 21 August, and came over a sandbar in the river in droves, making an easy target for the dug-in marines with their Browning .30 calibers and 37 mm anti-tank guns firing canister rounds, essentially enormous shotgun shells that sprayed projectiles over a wide field. The Americans lost 43 men in the Battle for Alligator Creek, but the long held image of the immortal, invincible Japanese soldier was gone. American morale was given a much-needed boost, while the Japanese were handed a massive blow. Nearly 90% of the Ichiki Detachment—800 of a little over 900 troops—was wiped out by marines who knew they were coming.
To learn more about the Guadalcanal Campaign, its heroes, and the weapons used to win victory see our Focus On: Guadalcanal.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of what many consider a disastrous raid on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France. The codenamed Operation Jubilee was designed by British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined Operations who saw unexpected success with the commando raid on St. Nazaire earlier in 1942. In an atmosphere of continued Allied losses from Singapore to Malaya to the Dutch East Indies, in addition to Josef Stalin’s perpetual insistence that the western Allies do something to draw off German troops from the Eastern front, a raid on Dieppe seemed a fair compromise to raise Allied morale and reassure the Soviets that the British, Canadians, and Americans were doing all they could at that moment.
An attack force of 6,000 men made up of approximately 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British, 50 US Army Rangers, and a dozen or so Free French fighters reached the shores of Dieppe at around 0500 hours on 19 August 1942. The operation had been repeatedly postponed due to poor weather, and it is likely that the lost time allowed the Germans to surmise an attack was coming. Luftwaffe reconnaissance surely saw an upsurge in amphibious vehicles off the coast of England, and to a lesser degree the anxious men who were to make the raid may have suffered from a bad case of loose lips. The Germans’ preparedness for the Allied landing that morning certainly suggests they knew what was coming.
In addition to heavy firepower and coastal defenses on the beaches, the Allied force suffered its own shortcomings. Pre-invasion bombardment had been planned on from the beginning, but was canceled due to the fear of harming French civilians. The Churchill tanks—which were not designed as amphibious vehicles but were used as such regardless—accompanying the landing force were essentially rendered useless once they hit the gravel beaches and the high seawall. Most were quickly knocked out, thereby stripping the infantrymen of armored support.
Less than six hours after landing, the Allied force called a retreat to which only 3,000 or so men responded. More than 900 Canadians and 260 British commandos were killed in action, and the remaining 2,100 Allied troops who survived were either wounded or captured. A hefty arsenal of weapons was lost on the beaches, which had the adverse effect of providing the enemy with a close-up study of Allied weaponry. Of the 50 US Army Rangers who partook in the raid, three were killed including Lt. Edward Loustalot, a Louisiana native, who was the first American to be killed in action by German forces in ground combat in Europe.
The Dieppe Raid was a costly loss for the Allies, and referred to by some as a massacre. However, the operation was intended as a test run for the eventual massive invasion of occupied France. The idea of Mulberry Harbors, for example, was a result of the evidence gained at Dieppe that an invading force would not be able to penetrate the Atlantic Wall and capture an occupied port. It was made clear as well those amphibious vehicles needed vast improvement. Though none of the raid’s goals were met and hundreds sacrificed their lives, the battle at Dieppe arguably saved hundreds or thousands of lives on D-Day at Normandy less than two years later by providing harsh but necessary lessons. As Admiral Mountbatten put it, “For every soldier who died at Dieppe, ten were saved on D-Day.”
Dieppe was a costly trial run for D-Day. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
Gravel beaches made the use of Churchill tanks nearly impossible. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
The aftermath of the Dieppe Raid, 18 August 1942. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
Only half of the raiding force returned home; the rest were killed, MIA, or taken prisoner. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
Hundreds of Allied prisoners of war are marched through Dieppe. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
The wounded. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
The survivors rely on each other. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
Allied prisoners of war take a breather after the disastrous battle. Gift of James Moorman, 2002.439
Artifact Spotlight: Capt. George LaBreche
RAF Type C Flying Helmet worn by US Capt. George LaBreche on the Dieppe Raid. Gift of Jerrye LaBreche, 2005.003
Captain LaBreche in his flying helmet. Gift of Jerrye LaBreche, 2005.003
Though the fifty US Rangers who participated in the Dieppe Raid are perhaps the more well known of Americans in that mission, a few US airmen were in the skies overhead as well.
Capt. George J. LaBreche of the US Army Air Force flew his first combat mission as commander of the 307th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force. One of the first units sent overseas to England, the 307th flew out of the Royal Air Force base at Biggen Hill. Later that summer, as overhead support for the Dieppe Raid, Captain LaBreche led the first US sortie in British Supermarine Spitfires–with US markings–instead of the P-39s they had trained on (they had since been deemed unsuitable for the unit’s purposes). LaBreche’s 31st Fighter Group was the US Army Air Force’s sole participant in the Dieppe Raid.
Less than three months later, LaBreche flew in support of Operation Torch where he was shot down, making a crash landing. Captain LaBreche made his way back to his airfield and continued combat flight operations without interruption. In one of his last missions in 1943 Captain LaBreche escorted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s aircraft in the North African theater.
Makin Island from the periscope of the submarine Nautilus
With the first American ground offensive underway just a few dozen miles away at Guadalcanal, two companies of marines from the newly formed 2nd Raider Battalion–a.k.a. Carlson’s Raiders–landed at Makin Island in the Gilbert chain on 17 August 1942. Their mission was manifold. First and foremost, the hope was to divert reinforcements headed for Guadalcanal to Makin. Gathering intelligence and destroying Japanese supplies and communications would be plusses.
Marine raiders were all volunteers. Thousands applied and only a small percentage was deemed suitable for their tasks. Once accepted to the program, raiders underwent specialized training, specific to their upcoming missions. Carlson’s Raiders, so named for their legendary commanding officer Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, trained on submarines and rubber boats in addition to hand-to-hand combat before shipping out to Makin Island on 8 August 1942. Second in command was President Roosevelt’s oldest son, James. Carlson’s leadership style was innovative, and went against age-old military protocol. Officers were called by their first names. Decisions were made by all involved, majority ruled. Their motto was “Gung Ho,” meaning “work together.” The brass may not have liked it, but the men who served with Carlson surely did.
Two-hundred marines of the 2nd Raider Battalion were transported from Pearl Harbor to Makin by the submarines Nautilus and Argonaut. Arriving at their target, Makin Island, and departing the subs at midnight on 17 August, the raiders succeeded in reaching the beaches undetected, traveling on rubber boats. Although chaos ensued due to rougher waters than expected and the inability of officers to communicate with one another, the raid was ultimately a success depending on which way you looked at it.
Marine Raider Insignia. Gift in Memory of Nathan Schaffer MD, 2009.551
The USS Argonaut leaving Pearl Harbor. Gift of Jane Dickman Schlaht, 2011.124
The USS Nautilus leaving Pearl Harbor. Gift of Jane Dickman Schlaht, 2011.124
British-made Boys anti-tank rifle used by the Raiders to fire at enemy seaplanes. Gift of Mrs. Phyllis Taylor, 2011.468
General Carlson aboard the Nautilus after the raid on Makin Island. Courtesy of the National Archives
Sgt. Clyde Thomason, the first enlisted marine to earn the Medal of Honor in WWII.
More than a hundred Japanese soldiers were killed, most in banzai charges. While this meant fewer enemies to fight later on, it also meant no prisoners were taken and therefore no intelligence gained. Radio, ammunition and fuel dumps were decimated, but with few enemy forces left on the island, this was an insignificant victory. Using a Boys anti-tank rifle (see an example from our collection above), the raiders damaged or destroyed a few Japanese seaplanes on the water. Instead of drawing reinforcements away from the harsh fighting at Guadalcanal, however, some argue that the Japanese were made to feel even more vulnerable by the raid on Makin and therefore tried to reinforce most of their outposts throughout the Pacific, making future battles more difficult and more costly.
Getting off the island proved the most difficult part of the raid, as the choppy waters forbade more than half of the marines from making it back to the submarines off the coast. The surf was just too rough. After an attempt by a rescue boat to reach the stranded marines failed, those remaining on Makin made do with what they had in true raider fashion, building a small boat and meeting the submarines elsewhere.
Despite its shortcomings, the raid proved that the newly-formed raider units were more than capable of achieving the goals for which they were created. It was on the Makin Raid that Sgt. Clyde Thomason became the first enlisted marine to earn the Medal of Honor in World War II for his actions above and beyond the call of duty. He was one of 19 marines who lost their lives that day. Nearly a dozen others were taken prisoner, and later executed by the Japanese on Kwajalein Atoll.
Upon the marines’ return to Pearl Harbor, all sailors present in the harbor were on deck, with flags at half mast to show respect for the returning raiders. Admiral Nimitz himself showed up to congratulate the raider in persons. You can see clips of this event in the video below. In 2000, the remains of those raiders who sacrificed all were discovered on Makin, returned to their families, and reinterred in the United States. Many now lay in Arlington National Cemetery. The US Navy amphibious assault ship Makin Island (LHD-8) was commissioned in honor of the raid in 2009.
The Manhattan Engineer District was the code name for the Army elements involved in the larger Manhattan Project. The project had its beginnings in 1939, with several respected physicists including Albert Einstein urging President Roosevelt—via the so-called Einstein-Szilárd letter—to consider the reality of the dangers of atomic power. They feared that Nazi Germany would develop such a weapon, and hoped to be allowed to research atomic power themselves and develop a weapon first. Roosevelt heeded their warnings, and immediately set up an advisory board to delve deeper into the issues raised.
The project was supported by Canada and the UK in addition to the US. All had a stake in its outcome and provided manpower and support for the production of atomic weapons. The Maud Committee in Great Britain had been doing its own independent research until joining up with the American initiative in 1941. That relationship, however, was never a comfortable one and the flow of information from country to country was essentially censored.
On 13 August 1942, the Army component of the project was officially activated and code-named the Manhattan Engineer District under the command of Col. James Marshall initially, and later Gen. Leslie Groves. The origin of the name came simply from the fact that Marshall worked out of Manhattan, and the bland name wouldn’t suggest the true, top-secret nature of the project.
The project had dozens of components, with sites in more than a dozen locations around North America. Those at Oak Ridge, Tennessee worked mainly with uranium. The actual design and research labs were located at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The first fruit of their labor was the successful Trinity Test in August of 1945. President Truman approved the use of the bombs, which were subsequently dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though Truman believed he would ultimately be saving lives by forcing an end to the war in the Pacific, his decision remains highly controversial to this day.
The Manhattan Project employed more than 100,000 personnel and cost $2 billion dollars, or approximately $24 billion by today’s standards. The project only ceased to exist with the creation of the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1947.
Army Air Corps Capt. David Semple flew several of the more than 150 test flights performed as part of the Manhattan Project, and was responsible for training the bombardiers who completed the atomic missions. Gift of Patricia Cromiller, 2001.511
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, chief scientist for the Manhattan Project, wrote this letter to Major C.S. Shields and Captain David Semple thanking them for their work in developing the atomic bomb. Gift of Patricia Cromiller, 2001.511
This service jacket was worn by Army Medical Corps physician Dr. Charles Prosser, Jr., who worked at both Oak Ridge and Los Alamos, without ever knowing what the men and women he treated were working on until the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Gift of Louise Prosser in Loving Memory of Dr. Charles S. Prosser, Jr. 2011.058
Military members working on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos wore this patch, whose design represents the splitting of the atom. Gift of Louise Prosser in Loving Memory of Dr. Charles S. Prosser, Jr. 2011.058
Seventy years ago, on 13 August 1942, Walt Disney’s Bambi premiered in US theaters. Bambi was the fifth of Walt Disney’s animated features following Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo. During WWII, Disney Studios also created over 1200 insignia for military outfits. Donald Duck was the character featured most—on over 200 insignia. Bambi’s rabbit friend, Thumper was featured, not on insignia, but in nose art as seen below. Thumper was painted on this B-29 assigned to the 73rd Bombardment Wing, 497th Bomb Group.
Seventy years ago today, on 4 August 1942, the film Holiday Inn was released. With music by Irving Berlin, the film would debut one of the songs most associated with the homesick GI during WWII, White Christmas.
Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.