The December 20, 1942, LIFE magazine cover featured the “Lonely Wife,” a dramatic interpretation of the women left behind. The cover description reads:
A full-page ad on page 1 asked Americans to avoid unnecessary long distance calls this Christmas. “It may be the ‘holiday season’ – but war needs the wires that you use for Christmas calls.”
A two-page ad for United States Rubber Company features a mother clutching her baby. The heart-wrenching text reads:
War bond references are plentiful. An ad for Toastmaster Toasters laments that the women of America will not be getting a Toastmaster in their stockings this year and “for the duration,” but offers tips on making your toaster last. This ad and many others offer up the idea of giving war bonds this Christmas so loved ones can get what they want after the war is over.
Other companies that did not have products to sell on the Home Front, touted their brand’s finer qualities on the battlefront.
In the years 1939-1941, at the behest of President Franklin Roosevelt upon urging from retailers, Thanksgiving was celebrated a week earlier, on the third Thursday in November rather than the fourth. As a result, some referred to the earlier celebration not as Thanksgiving, but as Franksgiving. The week change was intended as an economic stimulus measure that would create a longer Christmas shopping season and increase retail in the time of the Great Depression. Some states refused the change and celebrated at the usual time, while a few states celebrated both dates.
For the first Thanksgiving during WWII, in 1942, Roosevelt returned the holiday to its traditional week. The hit 1942 film, Holiday Inn, remarked on the confusion surrounding the date of that year’s Thanksgiving—even the turkey is confused. Happy Thanksgiving!
On November 7, 1942, Warner Brothers Studios released its third wartime film short, Beyond the Line of Duty, directed by Lewis Seiler and narrated by future President Ronald Reagan. Beyond the Line of Duty detailed the heroic exploits of B-17 pilot Lt. Hewitt “Shorty” Wheless during the Battle of the Phillipines (1941) whose badly-mauled plane and crew shot down seven Japanese “Zeros” before making a crash-landing at night with three flat tires. For his efforts, Wheless was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, earned mention in President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat on April 28, 1942 and was given Beyond the Line of Duty‘s starring role. The short proved popular and, at the 15th Academy Awards in 1943, Beyond the Line ofDuty took home the Oscar for Best Short Subject.
Like its predecessor shorts,Winning Your Wings starring Jimmy Stewart and Men Of The Sky, Beyond the Line of Duty sought to raise morale and spur enlistment for the air service. Warner Brothers would release only one further wartime short, The Rear Gunner, also starring Ronald Reagan, before the growing demand for training films became overwhelming and the First Motion Picture Unit took over as the USAAF’s primary film production unit; adopting the line ‘We Kill ‘Em With Fil’m’ as its motto.
This post by Collin Makamson, Red Ball Express Coordinator at The National WWII Museum
Jasper Maskelyne, a third generation British magician, was in the business of illusion. However, what he called the greatest “illusion” of his career is a major point of controversy for historians of World War II and those in the magic trade.
According to Maskelyne’s ghost-written memoir, Magic: Top Secret, and David Fisher’s The War Magician, Maskelyne was not only responsible for “moving” the Suez Canal and the entire city of Alexandria as part of the North Africa campaign, but was also the mastermind behind Operation Bertram.
Operation Bertram was a component of Operation Lightfoot, Lieut-Col Bernard Montgomery’s turning-point offensive in the North Africa Campaign. Bertram was just one of many deception plans of the war, the most famous being Operation Fortitude – the Allied ruse that led Germany to believe the D-Day offensive would come at Pas de Calais instead of the beaches or Normandy.
The operation was made up of a series of fake ammunition dumps in sight of the Axis forces that were replaced with real ammunition and gas rations under the cover of nightfall, an incomplete dummy pipeline which implied that preparations for attack were not as far along as they actually were, an army of jeeps disguised as tanks sent in one direction and tanks disguised as transport vehicles sent in another and lastly, a series of fake buildings, soldiers, tanks and trucks in the south.
The facts of Operation Bertram are undisputed. However, the role of Jasper Maskelyne is another story. According to Maskelyne and Fisher’s accounts, Montgomery met with the magician personally with the directive to hide the forces in the north while creating the deception of a military build-up in the south. However, military historian and magician, Richard J. Stokes argued in a series of articles published in Geniis Magic Journal that a number of chronological inaccuracies and unconfirmed events in both books, the absence of any mention of Maskelyne in official records and Montgomery’s own accounts, along with a statement from Maskelyne’s own son, cast a great deal of doubt on his involvement.
After the war, Maskelyne faded into obscurity. Unable to resurrect his career in magic and greatly frustrated by the lack of any recognition for his war efforts, he later moved to Africa where he operated a driving school. He died in 1973.
So was Maskelyne the unsung hero of the North African Campaign? Did he pull off some of the greatest illusions of World War II or even of all time? Or was he simply a washed-up magician, looking for credit and another taste of fame? After all of these years Jasper Maskelyne still has us guessing. And that may actually be the magician’s greatest feat.
Magic: Top Secret is currently out of print but David Fisher’s The War Magician has been recently reissued and is rumored to be on its way to the big screen. To read Robert J. Stokes articles in entirety, visit www.maskelynemagic.com.
Below: Photos of the sunshield prototype used to disguise a tank as a transport vehicle from declassified document “WO 201/2841 Sunshields – tank camouflage: introduction and development”. Jasper Maskelyne had several similar photos in his wartime scrapbook. Courtesy of The National Archives, Kew and special thanks to Richard Stokes.
A view of the players of The Eve of St. Mark from a review in the 19 October 1942 issue of LIFE magazine. Its caption reads, "Exhausted and sick with malaria, soldiers holding a small island in the Philippines listen as sergeant tells them they have quinine for only two days." Gift of Marian C. Lifsey, 2002.195
On 7 October 1942, Maxwell Anderson’s two-act play The Eve of St. Mark, premiered on Broadway. Two years after its stage premiere—and once the play’s 307 show run was over, per Anderon’s directives—The Eve of St. Mark was also made into a 20th Century Fox film starring Anne Baxter and Vincent Price, in addition to many of the original stage actors.
The play’s title was inspired by John Keat’s poem of the same name. St. Mark’s Eve, celebrated on 24 April, is a day full of superstitions. In some faiths in some churches, it was believed that if one stood vigil at the church’s doors overnight, you would see the ghosts of those who were going to die in the coming year.
The title is appropriate, as—spoiler alert!—the play’s protagonist, Quizz West, finds himself serving in the Philippines on 24 April, the Eve of St. Mark, when West’s unit is clearly becoming overwhelmed by the enemy. The play reflected the reality that the Japanese had attacked the Philippines in 1941, and had succeeded in pushing American and Filipino forces into a retreat, as they suffered heavily from illness like dysentery and malaria. While asleep and dreaming, Quizz speaks with his mother and his sweetheart, asking them for guidance in his struggle with whether to stand strong knowing he will be sacrificing his life, or to retreat knowing that doing so will cost the lives of his brothers in arms. See the 1944 film to find out which path West chose…
On September 29, 1942, three squadrons of American pilots—called Eagle Squadrons—were transferred from the British Royal Air Force to the US 8th Air Force. These several dozen American men had volunteered to fly for the Brits despite the United States remaining neutral, risking the forfeiture of their citizenship in order to do what they considered the just and rightful thing to do.
The Eagle Squadrons were created in the image of the famed Lafayette Escadrille of World War I, also a squadron of American volunteers from the neutral US fighting on the side of an ally. In both cases, the purpose was manifold—not only did these volunteers provide much needed manpower, but they also served as ambassadors to the neutral United States, whom the Brits in the Second World War and the French in the First hoped to rope into the war.
Though many thousands of young American men applied to the program—recruitment was handled by Americans living overseas who also shouldered much of the cost of training and transporting those volunteers—only around 250 actually served with the RAF. Many more served with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Three squadrons, No. 71, No. 121 and No. 133, were activated between February and July 1941, and were named the Eagle Squadrons after their own insignia design which supposedly borrowed the style of the eagle on US passports. The eagles initially flew the notoriously bad Brewster Buffalo which, by at least one account, they intentionally damaged in order to have them replaced. The squadrons later flew Hurricanes and Spitfires. All three units partook in the Dieppe Raid, where famed ace Dominic “Don” Gentile claimed his first kills. Once transferred to the 8th Air Force, Gentile became the 4th Fighter Group’s highest scoring pilot.
On 29 September 1942 in a small English suburb, Squadrons No. 71, 121, and 133 became the American 334th, 335th, and 336th Fighter Squadrons, respectively. Although they now donned American wings, the Eagles were allowed to retain their hard-earned RAF wings, worn on their right lapel. The 4th Fighter Group also continued to fly the British Spitfire until eventually reequipped with P-47 Thunderbolts and later P-51 Mustangs. By the time the Eagles were transferred to the USAAF, nearly half of the original volunteers had been killed in action, wounded, were missing, or had been taken prisoner. Undoubtedly, the months of combat experience amassed by the Eagles contributed to the 4th Fighter Group’s impeccable record, the best of any fighter group in the 8th Air Force, with 1,016 victories.
The Wasp gets hit hard, 15 September 1942. Gift of Lionel Taylor, 2010.396.005
The USS Wasp (CV-7) was laid down on 1 April 1936, and commissioned on 25 April 1940. The [exceptionally small] aircraft carrier was built according to proportions agreed upon at the Washington Naval Conference in 1922. For the Wasp, this meant displacing no more than 15,000 tons. To build such a light aircraft carrier meant doing without much armor at all, which certainly contributed to the ship’s demise on this day 70 years ago, 15 September 1942.
Before America declared war, the Wasp was one of several ships that participated in the transport of US aircraft to Iceland in late summer 1941. After months spent training and patrolling the Atlantic—and an American declaration of war—Wasp was sent once again to ferry aircraft on behalf of the British RAF for actions at Malta in April 1942, and a return trip a month later to replace heavy aircraft losses in the first go-round.
After losing two carriers in naval combat (Lexington at Coral Sea and Yorktown at Midway), the Wasp was suddenly in high demand in the Pacific. With the American invasion of Guadalcanal in the works by July 1942, the Wasp was assigned to Admiral Fletcher’s force. Beginning in the early hours of 7 August 1942, Wasp’s Avengers, SBDs, and Wildcats hit several Japanese positions throughout the Guadalcanal islands, taking out 24 enemy aircraft at the cost of 4 of their own.
On 15 September 1942, Wasp along with the only other carrier available in the Pacific, the Hornet, was on escort duty ensuring the landing of 7th Marines on Guadalcanal proper. She was struck by several torpedoes fired from the Japanese submarine I-19. Being as Wasp was lightly armored due to its construction limitations, she was particularly vulnerable. On top of that, she was hit much like the battleship Arizona was at Pearl Harbor, struck near the magazine causing huge explosions from ammo and gasoline. The fires could not be fought and the order to abandon ship was given. After a successful evacuation, the Wasp soon rested on the floor of the waters off Guadalcanal. Though her aircraft in the sky at the time of the attack were able to make emergency landings elsewhere, the rest of the planes the Wasp carried were lost with the ship. Nearly 200 brave sailors lost their lives with the sinking of the Wasp, with many more wounded. Today, we remember those men.
On September 4, 1942,Warner Brothers released the spy film Across the Pacific (no resemblance whatsoever to the 1926 film of the same name) starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. The war had disrupted the film in a number of ways. The first was that the original script had Bogie thwarting a fictitious Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After December 7, 1941, the script was quickly rewritten and the attack moved to Panama. The other was the departure of John Huston for military service. Both Huston and the film’s second director, Vincent Sherman, blamed the other for what was called an “improbable ending.”
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
“On Friday, June 12th, I woke up at six o’clock and no wonder; it was my birthday.”
-Anne’s first diary entry, June 14, 1942
Just 22 days before going into hiding with her family and neighbors, Anne Frank was celebrating her thirteenth birthday much like any other young girl. She woke up early, too excited to sleep, and unwrapped presents like board games, chocolate and the journal that she would use to write one of the most prolific and influential accounts of the Holocaust. Published in more than 60 languages, Anne’s account of the two years she and her family spent in a neighbor’s sealed-off annex reveals a human side to the suffering that has become required reading for schoolchildren around the world.
Anne was born in Frankfurt and was a German national, though her family moved to the Netherlands in 1933 after the Nazis rose to power. Early in 1940, the Franks found themselves trapped in Amsterdam under increasingly oppressive anti-Semitic laws; Anne and her sister Margot were removed from their classes and enrolled in the Jewish-only school; their father, Otto, had to give up his businesses in order to save them from going under entirely; Anne, who dreamed of being an actress, found herself banned from something as simple as going to the movies. In 1941, they lost their German citizenship.
On July 5, 1942, Anne notes in her diary that her father is planning to evacuate the family in anticipation of Nazi orders to do so. For several days, there are no journal updates, and on July 8, Anne reveals that the family received a notice ordering Margot to report to a work camp. They wait until morning to make their escape, wearing layer upon layer of clothing to avoid carrying conspicuous luggage. This was the last time Anne would be outdoors until the family was found and arrested two years later. She died just weeks before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen during a typhus epidemic that would claim roughly 17,000 prisoners.
The publication of Anne’s diary allowed for those far away from Europe to feel a human connection to the atrocities. Many survivors joined relatives in countries like the United States, and Anne’s story served as an important tool in understanding the trauma these survivors had been through. In my hometown of Queens, NY, I lived amongst a large survivor population that still could not talk about what happened to them forty years later. When I asked my grandmother what the numbers tattooed on her neighbor’s arm meant, she walked over to her bookcase and pulled out my mother’s copy of Anne’s diary.
Anne never intended to become one of the most powerful symbols of one of history’s worst tragedies, writing:
“It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I – nor for that matter anyone else – will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”
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.