In the Second World War, the year 1943 represents a hinge or mid-point in the historical course of the war. We today know that the American entry into the war in late 1941 ultimately culminated in victory in 1945, and many students of history today therefore believe that the United States was gaining traction towards this inevitable, foreordained end. But those Americans living through 1943 had no way to know that the war would end in two years, or that the final result would be victory. In reality, 1943 was a time of tremendous and complex transition in the Allied war effort, one in which momentum was being fostered that would lead to the offensive cascade and escalating violence which would overwhelm the Axis powers.
When I first became interested in the Second World War as a high school student, the year 1943 seemed to be a lull or drag in time, a year which paled in importance compared to the crash of huge events that surrounded it. To my youthful, untamed mind, the great dramatic events of Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, North Africa or Stalingrad in 1942 swept seamlessly and effortlessly into the great dramatic events of Normandy, the Bulge and final victory in the drive to Berlin and the atomic explosions over Japan in the breathtaking time of 1944-45. By comparison, 1943 seemed to be a grind, a breathing spell, a time when leaders were simply “staying the course” until they could undertake the next big, dramatic historical steps.
Fortunately for me, students of history are asked to consider how big, dramatic events in reality come about, and the interested student who digs into the details of an historical time frequently discovers that what first seemed to be mundane or simple events are in fact the result of an enormously complex set of circumstances, initiatives, and personalities. Such has been my experience as I continued to learn about World War II in college, and it is my good fortune to continue to learn new perspectives right up to the present day.
Just in time for the 70th anniversaries of the events of 1943, the Yale historian of geopolitics Paul Kennedy has laid out the case for 1943 as the key time of complex and deep transitions within the war with his latest book, Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War. Professor Kennedy identifies the strategic issues upon which victory for the Allies hung in the balance: learning how to bring convoys across the Atlantic Ocean safely, how to achieve air superiority, how to halt a blitzkrieg, how to successfully conduct amphibious landings and how to defeat vast geographic distances through logistics. The origins to the big, dramatic events that brought the war to a tremendous climax were due to the Allied responses to these strategic problems, all roughly centered in the year 1943.
The fate of the outcome of the war alights on the movement of events centered on this hinge year of 1943. In this perspective, the battle of the Atlantic comes to a head during the critical month of Black May. The Allies learn after disastrous bombing raids at Ploesti and Schweinfurt that technology can supply the key to long range fighter escorts and reverse the currents in the air war. The techniques first used at El Alamein by the British are demonstrated on a massive scale against the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg tactics by the Red Army at Kursk. Through the Mediterranean and Pacific, the Allies honed the tremendous demands of coordination between air, sea and land forces necessary for effective amphibious landings against hostile shores. And the far-flung expanses of the Pacific which protected the Japanese homeland became bridgeable by American forces, with the taking of Saipan in the Marianas opening up a devastating American air campaign.
B-17Fs over Schweinfurt, Germany, August 17, 1943
What is most interesting for students of history to consider in the great strategic events of this time is the mosaic of seemingly simple, individual decisions and causes underlying the turn of events. A change of doctrine such as the counter-intuitive, aggressive movement of ships towards German U-boats after an attack at sea, a technological innovation such as the installation of a Rolls-Royce engine inside a P-51 aircraft or the entrepreneurial determination of a small businessman such as Andrew Higgins all played a role in determining the outcome of the events of 1943, and thus the eventual Allied victory in the war. These examples are not singular explanations, but fit into a larger historical picture with still more multiples of causes and ideas which contributed to why history turned out as it did.
So to further contemplate, discuss and determine why 1943 matters in the Second World War, The National WWII Museum will host as the subject of our annual International Conference on WWII “1943: Victory in the Balance” from November 21-23, 2013, here in New Orleans. I invite all students of history, young and old, to attend as we seek friendly arguments and stimulating answers within this fascinating hinge year of the war.
Dr. Keith Huxen is the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Director of Research and History at The National WWII Museum.
70 years ago this week saw the launch of the Third War Loan. Addressing the nation during one of his fireside chats, President Franklin Roosevelt called Americans to “contribute your share and more than your share.” The President continued, “It is not sufficient to simply put into War Bonds money which we would normally save. We must put into War Bonds money which we would not normally save. Only then have we done everything that good conscience demands.”
With a fundraising goal of $15 billion, individual sales of $100 denomination series E bonds would need to double. The public’s effort surpassed the goal outlined by Roosevelt, reaching almost $19 billion by the drive’s close on October 2, 1943. Everyday citizens often purchased savings bonds while certificates of indebtedness and treasury notes were generally held by banks and corporations. The popular E series bond could be purchased for 75% of its ultimate value. For example, a war bond costing $75 matured in ten years to a $100 payout. Almost 70% of the Series F and Series G Bonds sold during the Third War Loan were purchased by individuals. These savings bonds, available in denominations up to $10,000, earned compounding interest and matured in twelve years.
In addition to funding the costs of global conflict, war loan drives served an important role in reducing inflation. During times of inflation, the supply of cash is plentiful, decreasing demand and lowering the value of money. Inflation is apparent when we compare prices of the past to those of today. For example, a candy bar that cost 5 cents in 1942 costs 99 cents today, an almost 1900% increase.
When the US Treasury sells a bond, it accepts cash removing the currency from the market. During a bond drive the supply of cash is reduced, increasing demand and raising the value of money. During times of inflation, the supply of cash is plentiful, decreasing demand and lowering the value of money.
Gift of Holly Reynolds, 2011.466 Ushers at the "Back the Attack" Army show in Washington DC for the Third War Loan
Using a mule to haul supplies to the front in Sicily. NARA.
By May 1943, the United States Army had acquired hard-won experience and tasted success in North Africa as Axis forces composed of more than 250,000 German and Italian troops surrendered at Tunisia. Through intense debates in the previous months, it had become apparent to the Allied leadership that the next step taken by the Allies would not be a cross-channel attack into northern France, as preparations for such an expedition would be inadequate and premature. Instead, the next major initiative against the enemy would come in a Mediterranean crossing which would seek the first defeat of one of the three Axis powers – Fascist Italy.
Sicily was a natural route to mainland Italy and the European continent going back in history to the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome. The Allies could count on air cover from Malta for a Sicilian invasion. In an elaborate espionage operation known as Mincemeat, designed to divert German defenses, British intelligence dressed a suicide victim as a Royal Marine, planted false papers on the corpse and deposited the package off the coast of Spain for the Germans to find and interpret. The ruse proved successful, and German resources were shifted to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica.
In a preview of issues that the Allies would later famously encounter in launching the D-Day invasion into France, weather played a key role in the timing of the amphibious assault into Sicily. A storm interfered with the ability of the Allies to land paratroopers behind enemy lines and nearly delayed the launch, but the weather conditions also convinced the Axis powers that an offensive operation against them would not occur, providing the Allies with an element of surprise. On July 10, 1943, the Allies launched Operation Husky before sunrise, a massive amphibious assault on the southern shores of the island. For the next three days it involved more than 3,000 ships landing over 150,000 ground troops, covered by more than 4,000 aircraft. They were opposed on the island by only two German divisions, as Nazi leadership continued to believe the main assault would come at Sardinia and Corsica.
Problems of military coordination and logistics, although diminishing, continued to plague the Allied forces. Competitive egos also emerged in the Allied leadership. Lt. General George S. Patton landed with the US Seventh Army at Gela, while the British, under General Bernard Montgomery, led the Eighth Army to the east. Montgomery’s forces were charged with advancing up the eastern shore directly toward Messina. Meanwhile, Patton’s forces were charged with protecting Montgomery’s flank and moving to the northwest toward Palermo. They would then be positioned to advance east across Sicily’s northern shore to Messina.
GIs of 16th Inf Regt walking through Troina, Sicily. NARA.
In the immediate aftermath of the Allied landings, the German General Albert Kesselring judged that the Italian fighting forces were so weak that the Germans were virtually on their own in the fight. Indeed, the Allies had believed that the Italian government was politically unstable, and they were not disappointed in that assessment. On July 24, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed and arrested under a new Italian government headed by Pietro Badoglio, who immediately began to seek peace terms with the Allied governments and withdrew Italian troops the next day.
Adolf Hitler was not as easily swayed, and ordered the German troops to continue strong resistance. Nonetheless, the die was cast for a German withdrawal from Sicily. When the Allies closed in on the port of Messina on August 17, 1943, they discovered the Germans had withdrawn more than 100,000 troops across the straits, reinforcing the Wehrmacht to continue the fight in mainland Italy. The northern campaign up the peninsula to free Italy and ultimately Western Europe would prove an arduous task.
In 38 days the Allies had taken the first major step along that continental road with the liberation of Sicily. The effort cost approximately 24,850 American, British and Canadian casualties. Although there would be further twists and turns in the liberation of the Italian nation, through Sicily the Allies had successfully delivered a devastating blow against the first Fascist government in world history when they toppled Mussolini’s regime.
This article was written by Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Director of Research and History Keith Huxen.
The great grandson of the Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, General Nathan Bedford Forrest III was killed in action when he went down with his B-17 over Germany. He reportedly stayed behind the controls until the last of the crew was able to evacuate, but was not able to get out before the plane exploded. Sadly, all but one crew member perished in the water before rescue. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Forrest was the last of the family line and had no children. Sources list him as the first American General killed in action in the war in Europe.
“Your Excellency,” begins Pope Pius XII’s letter to Franklin Roosevelt dated May 18, 1943. “Almost four years have now passed since, in the name of the God the Father of all and with the utmost earnestness at Our command, we appealed to the responsible leaders of peoples to hold back the threatening avalanche of international strife and to settle their differences in the calm, serene atmosphere of mutual understanding.”
The Pope’s August 1939 appeal for a serene atmosphere of mutual understanding could certainly not be established after Nazi boots crossed into Poland the very next month. In his May 1943 letter, Pope Pius relates, with bitter taste, the tidal wave of destruction, despair and disorder that was then washing over the world.
It is in the same letter, the leader of the Catholic faith prays that Roosevelt understands that a bombardment of Rome would undoubtedly dislodge from human civilization the “many treasured shrines of Religion and Art,” that were housed within the city.
This appeal to effectively make Rome an open city failed. Roosevelt was not deaf to the Pope’s question of Rome and the Vatican, reassuring the Pope that bombing efforts would be concentrated upon military targets: “[if] it should be found necessary for Allied planes to operate over Rome, our aviators are thoroughly informed as to the location of the Vatican and have been specifically instructed to prevent bombs from falling within Vatican City.
Rome was eventually declared an open city by her defenders in August of 1943, after the Allied bombing campaign had ceased. The city was captured by the Allies in June of 1944.
The copious correspondence between President and Pontiff would continue after the Allied bombings of Italy, ending with Roosevelt’s untimely death.
Members of the Canadian Royal 22e Regiment in audience with Pope Pius XII. Library and Archives Canada image.
Posted by Ryan Casalino, Interactive Content Intern.
Meet the Author – Robert Edsel presents “Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis”
Thursday, May 30, 2013 5:00 pm Reception | 6:00 pm Presentation | 7:00 pm Book Signing US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
When Hitler’s armies occupied Italy in 1943, they also seized control of mankind’s greatest cultural treasures. As they had done throughout Europe, the Nazis could now plunder the masterpieces of the Renaissance, the treasures of the Vatican, and the antiquities of the Roman Empire.
On the eve of the Allied invasion, General Dwight Eisenhower empowered a new kind of soldier to protect these historic riches. In May 1944 two unlikely American heroes — artist Deane Keller and scholar Fred Hartt — embarked from Naples on the treasure hunt of a lifetime, tracking billions of dollars of missing art, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Titian, Caravaggio, and Botticelli.
With the German army retreating up the Italian peninsula, orders came from the highest levels of the Nazi government to transport truckloads of art north across the border into the Reich. Standing in the way was General Karl Wolff, a top-level Nazi officer. As German forces blew up the magnificent bridges of Florence, General Wolff commandeered the great collections of the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, later risking his life to negotiate a secret Nazi surrender with American spymaster Allen Dulles.
Saving Italy brings readers from Milan and the near destruction of The Last Supper to the inner sanctum of the Vatican and behind closed doors with the preeminent Allied and Axis leaders: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Churchill; Hitler, Göring, and Himmler.
Robert M. Edsel is the author of the non-fiction books, Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, as well as the forthcoming book Saving Italy, to be published in Spring 2013. He is the co-producer of the documentary film, The Rape of Europa, and Founder and President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. In January 2012 George Clooney announced he would write, direct and star in the film version of Mr. Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men.
Eder Dam on 17 May 1943. German Federal Archives image.
On May 16-17, 1943, No. 617 Squadron RAF (later dubbed the “Dambusters”) targeted dams with the intent of flooding the Ruhr region of Germany. The mission was reported a “limited success” with casualty reports ranging from 1,268 to 1,600 plus (over 1,000 of these were alleged to be Soviets in German labor camps). The initial effects on factories, mines, water production and hydroelectric power were short-lived, but the impact on food production was felt well into the next decade.
Ten of the 19 “Dambusters” returned from the mission. Four of those would not survive the war.
Möhne Dam after the attack. German Federal Archives image.
Attu, Aleutian Island, June 4, 1943. Soldiers hurling their trench mortar shells over a ridge into a Japanese position. Library of Congress image.
May 11, 2013, marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Attu. The largest of the Near Islands of Alaska, Attu was the site of the only land battle fought on an incorporated territory of the United States during World War II.
The Japanese Northern Army had taken Attu unopposed in June 1942. Fearing that the island would be used as an airbase to launch strikes along the West Coast of North America, the United States initiated Operation SANDCRAB.
Over 1,000 miles from mainland Alaska, Attu’s bedfellow is extremely hostile weather, and the challenges confronting SANDCRAB were colossal. Turgidly confident, American commanders were convinced superior air and naval forces would rid the island of a majority of enemy forces. The day of the landing unremitting fog had enshrouded Attu, reducing the effect of air and naval strikes. American soldiers were met with violent opposition the moment their boots hit the ground.
And those boots might as well have been sandals! Soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division waded ashore clad in gear suited more for the sun-basted beaches of California than the frigid air of Attu. Commanders were aware of this, but regarded Attu as an island easily won. Days surely would not turn to weeks. The environmental forces that produce frostbite would be outgunned, outnumbered and wholly avoided by taking Attu quickly.
Unfortunately frostbite took its toll while brutal environmental forces pounded Americans already beset by entrenched Axis forces.
The advance into the interior took weeks not days, as American troops were hindered by extremely bitter weather conditions and a determined foe. The Americans did push forward and the end finally did arrive when Japanese Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki, realizing Attu had been lost, ordered the last of his troops to conduct a banzai charge. The Colonel himself lead the ill-fated charge and was killed with sword firmly in hand.
When the bloodletting had finally ceased, 2,351 Japanese and 549 Americans were dead.
By clearing the Western Hemisphere of Japanese forces, the Western United States were free from threat and an ebullient sense of security prevailed. But the cost of human life was high, and the Aleutian Islands never factored into an American invasion plan of mainland Japan. Bored American troops stationed there spent the remainder of the war puffing on their cigarettes and kicking the dry earth beneath their feet.
Posted by Ryan Casalino, Interactive Content Intern.
April 10, 1943 – Former all-America tailback at the University of Michigan and Heisman Trophy winner, Tom Harmon (US Army Air Corps) was the only member of his crew to survive a crash over Suriname due to weather conditions.
Twice during World War II he was reported missing in action. In April 1943 he crashed into the jungles of Dutch Guiana, which is now Suriname, and marched alone through swamps and rain forests four days before he was rescued by natives.
Later that year, he bailed out of his P-38 fighter plane over China when it was shot down in an air fight. When he reached the ground, there were bullet holes in his parachute, and he pretended he was dead to discourage the enemy pilots from further attacks. He was smuggled back through Japanese-held territory to an American base by friendly Chinese bands.
When Harmon married Elyse Knox, an actress, on Aug. 26, 1944, the bride used the white silk and white cords from his parachute in her wedding gown.
After the war, Harmon received a $7,000 tax bill for earnings on the movie he had made in 1941. He accepted a $20,000-a-year offer from the Los Angeles Rams football team and performed for them through two unimpressive seasons. Wartime leg injuries robbed him of his former speed and power.
After ending his playing career, Harmon spent the rest of his life as a sports broadcaster in radio and television, based mainly in Los Angeles. In 1974, he joined the Hughes Television Network as a sports director, hired to coordinate sports programming and to serve as a commentator at major golf tournaments.
”Sports broadcasting was the only job I ever wanted,” he said. ”It was the thing I loved because it put me among people I knew and wanted to be with.”
The Michigan sports blog MGOBLOG also credits Harmon as the man who “made NCIS possible by fathering son, Mark.”
Tom Harmon (top row, center) and crew at Atkinson Field
March 27, 2013, (or March 26 if you are going by Hawaiian time) marks the 70th anniversary of one of World War II’s forgotten naval clashes, the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. Although a minor engagement in which no ships were sunk, the battle off the Komandorskis was a significant strategic victory for the US Navy as it prevented desperately needed supplies from reaching Japanese forces in the Aleutian Islands.
The Battle of the Komandorski Islands came about as a result of an intercepted Japanese radio message notifying Japanese forces on Attu that supplies were en route from Japan. Once the message was decrypted in Hawaii, Rear Admiral Charles McMorris was ordered to intercept and destroy the Japanese convoy with one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser and four destroyers.
What should have been an easy victory was complicated by the fact that the Japanese convoy was escorted by two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and four destroyers. So, when the two forces collided off the Soviet-controlled Komandorski Islands early on the morning of 27 March 1943, McMorris’s ships found themselves in a stand-up fight with a superior Japanese force. What followed was a running gun battle that lasted over six hours. Both sides suffered damage, with the USS Salt Lake City being hit by six 8” shells. The Japanese cruiser Nachi was also heavily hit during the battle. Ultimately, around noon on the 27th, the Japanese convoy turned back.
USS Salt Lake City, shown during the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, 27 March 1943
Taken at Mare Island, this photo highlights the hits suffered by the Salt Lake City off the Komandorskis
No ships were lost on either side, and less than sixty casualties were suffered on both sides, but the damage done to the Japanese off the Komandorskis was much greater than the sum of damaged ships and wounded men. The battle effectively sealed off the northern supply route to the Aleutian Islands. After March 1943, Japanese forces in the Aleutians were only supplied by submarines, which were incapable of providing the amount of material needed for the Japanese force to hang on. Although nearly forgotten today, the Battle of the Komandorski Islands had a decisive impact on America’s victory in the Aleutian Islands.
Posted by Curator Eric Rivet
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.