President Franklin D. Roosevelt Explains War Strategy to America, Fireside Chat Feb. 23, 1942

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Explains War Strategy to America, Fireside Chat Feb. 23, 1942
In February, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Americans to get a world map before his "Fireside chat" heard over the radio. He said, "I'm going to speak about strange places that many have never heard of ... places that are now the battleground for civilization." Photo from the Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Fr. Joseph Timothy O’Callahan, SJ and the Medal of Honor

By Adrian McGrath

“The Bravest man I have ever seen.”
Captain Leslie Gehres of the USS Franklin commenting about Fr. O’Callahan

Fr. O'Callahan helps the wounded, USS Franklin
(Photo Wikipedia/ National Archives)

(Editor's Note: This article
first appeared in
on 8/23/17 and appears
here with permission.)

He was a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the United States Navy. He was a Jesuit Catholic priest, having been ordained in the Society of Jesus in 1934. And he was an Irish Catholic from Boston, born in Roxbury in 1905. He completed his bachelor of arts degree in 1925 from St. Andrew’s College in New York and later got a masters degree in 1929, studying mathematics and science. He became a professor of physics at Boston College and later was head of the department of Mathematics at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. Additionally, he was at one point a professor of philosophy at Weston College (Weston Jesuit School of Theology).

History recalls this man of God and man of letters, however, not necessarily for his scholarship or even for his service as a civilian priest -- both of which were outstanding accomplishments. We remember Father Joseph Timothy O’Callahan, however, because of the exceptional acts of bravery he performed -- while a priest and Navy Chaplin -- during combat in World War II.

This Irish Catholic priest and scholar rose to the occasion during a Japanese attack on the US Navy ship on which he served, the USS Franklin, and by disregarding his own safety, saved the lives of many men on board the Franklin while explosions and fires threatened to send the ship and crew to their doom.

He lived only 59 years, dying in 1964, after have many strokes. But the memory of his bravery and compassion for his fellow sailors, while under enemy attack, lives on.

For his selfless heroism Fr. O’Callahan was given the highest medal America awards -- the Medal of Honor. President Harry Truman personally presented this medal to him, and the United States Navy named a ship in his honor.

Fr. O’Callahan became a chaplain and officer in the US Navy’s Chaplain Corps in 1940, one year before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. His first ship was the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier. Although he was an officer, he would regularly take his meals with the enlisted men, on purpose, in order to better understand and communicate with the men. Such an action made the crew immediately like and respect him. He was “one of them,” so to speak.
Fr. Joseph Timothy O'Callahan, SJ
(Wikipedia, National Archives)

In March of 1945 Fr. O’Callahan, now Lt. Commander, was serving on another aircraft carrier called the USS Franklin. His ship was to take part in the invasion of Okinawa. This invasion was the largest amphibious invasion in history, even bigger than the famous D-Day invasion at Normandy in 1944. As a prelude to the invasion, the Franklin would conduct air raids against the mainland of Japan itself.

The USS Franklin (which was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, by the way, and sometimes nicknamed "Big Ben") was attacking enemy bases on Kyushu and Honshu. This would help in the planned US invasion of Okinawa.

The Battle of Okinawa is noted for the ferocity and fanaticism of the enemy Japanese. They were now fighting on their own soil and fought to the death, even with suicidal attacks. One form of these suicidal attacks was called the Kamikaze or Divine Wind. Japanese air planes packed with bombs and explosives would deliberately crash into US ships causing extreme explosions, killing many crew members and severely damaging or even sinking US Navy vessels of all types. Additionally, the Japanese used whatever conventional aircraft available to bomb or strafe US ships.

On March 19, 1945 a Japanese plane attacked the USS Franklin dropping two 550 pound bombs. These were not ordinary bombs, however. They were armor-piercing which meant they were designed to penetrate decks and plunge deep into the US ships, and then blow up. The idea was to attack the ammunition magazine or engines to cause massive damage and destruction. Both of the bombs in the attack did penetrate the decks of the USS Franklin, and they set off massive fires as well as explosions.

In addition to destroying American aircraft, the bombs and fires made contact with the fuel supply used for the aircraft. These raging fires in turn made contact with the ammunition -- which was now loose in many cases rolling about the stricken ship. Ammunition and bombs on board the ship blew up, and this resulted in much more destruction and even more fire. Tragically, many men in the hangar deck, where the airplanes were kept below the top flight deck, lost their lives.

The USS Franklin was ablaze. Smoke, fire, and more explosions seemed to come from all directions. The ship was immobilized. It was taking water and leaning partly on its side (called “listing” in the Navy). The radio was out. The situation was desperate for the ship and its crew.
The USS Franklin severely damaged, March 19, 1945
Fr. O'Callahan was on board ministering to the wounded and dying
and leading rescue teams. USS Sante Fe came alongside to assist.
(Wikimedia Commons and National Archives)

Fr. O’Callahan had been wounded in the attack. Shrapnel from the bomb blast hit him, and he was in grave danger from both his wounds and the fires aboard the vessel. Despite his own injuries, he quickly went to help the wounded sailors. He gave "Extreme Unction" or Last Rights to the dying men while explosions and fires raged around him. He helped the wounded and dying of all faiths with his words, prayers, and by applying first aid and leading medical rescue teams to the wounded men through the smoke and fire.

Throughout the ordeal, Fr. O'Callahan would hear the shouts of men, "Padre! Padre!" They were calling for him to come, and he did. He went through corridors in the ship filled with smoke and fire to help the wounded and dying men.

Fr. O'Callahan was not considered young and was not in top condition to do the incredible deeds he did during and after the attack. By 1945 he was almost 40 years old. He was nearsighted. He had high blood pressure. He suffered from claustrophobia, the fear of small confining places -- and he had to go through smoke-filled, narrow passageways on board the burning ship to search for and rescue injured crewmen. Despite his medical issues and his new shrapnel injuries (for which he later received the Purple Heart), "Father Joe" -- as he was often called -- moved forward to help the distressed crew.

Fr. O’Callahan then took it upon himself to lead the firefighter crews on the top deck. He then organized the sailors to throw live ammunition overboard which was about to explode, preventing further destruction. He helped to water down the ammunition magazine to prevent the fires from igniting the bombs and weapons there. He personally took a fire hose and wet down bombs which were about to catch fire and explode. He did all this despite the toxic smoke, fire, and explosions all around him.

In one incredible incident, a large bomb started to roll down the deck. (Bombs and other munitions were loose due to the explosions and the listing of the ship.) When the bomb came to a stop, some of the officers and crew feared it would explode but knew it had to be defused right away. Quite naturally, they were hesitant to approach it. Then Fr. O'Callahan went to the bomb. He stood perfectly still and folded his arms. Seeing this calmed the officers, who then went towards O'Callahan and defused the dangerous bomb.

Over 700 Americans were killed in the attack, in the smoke, the fires, and the explosions on board the USS Franklin that day; and over 250 were wounded (including Fr. O’Callahan). We do not know exactly how many men were saved because of the actions of the Jesuit priest that day, but it was certainly many. Fr. O’Callahan personally stayed by the side of the dying men, with danger all around, giving them emotional and spiritual support and comfort as they breathed their last breaths on this Earth. He coolly, despite his own injuries, led other men to prevent further explosions and organize rescue teams. His actions that day were simply extraordinary, as if he were sent by God to help the severely damaged ship and its wounded and dying crew.
Fr. O'Callahan (right) with President
Harry Truman and other
Medal of Honor recipients, 1946
(Wikipedia and National Archives)

In February of 1946 Fr. O’Callahan went to the White House in Washington DC to be given the Medal of Honor personally by President Harry Truman. (The Medal of Honor is sometimes referred to as the "Congressional Medal of Honor," although "Medal of Honor" is the official name.) This was the first time in the history of the United States Navy that a chaplain was presented the Medal of Honor. Furthermore, Fr. O’Callahan was the only American chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II.

The captain of the USS Franklin, Les Gehres, perhaps summed it up the best upon the ship's return to the Brooklyn Naval Yard in New York. Fr. O'Callahan's mother came aboard the ship and the captain praised her son highly. He reportedly said to her that he was not a religious man, but he saw what her son did during the attack and the fires. The captain said, "If faith can do this for a man, there must be something to it. Your son in the bravest man I have ever seen."

After the war Fr. O’Callahan, forever the Jesuit, went back to teaching. He quietly taught mathematics at Holy Cross College once again. He retired from the Navy Reserve with the rank of Captain.

In 1965 the United States Navy honored the priest’s profound service by naming a ship after him -- the USS O’Callahan (DE-1051).
USS O'Callahan
Named after
Fr. Joseph T. O'Callahan
(Wikimedia Commons)

Fr. O’Callahan joined the long line of Irish who have seen honorable, and in many cases extraordinary, service in the military of the United States.

Sources and further reading:
Ethnic and Racial Minorities in the U.S.Military: An Encyclopedia (See the section entitled O’Callahan, Joseph T. (1904 -1964), Irish American Chaplain and Medal of Honor Recipient in World War II); Wikipedia’s article on Fr. O’Callahan at ; the photos are from Wikimedia: USS O'Callahan at ; photo of Fr. O'Callahan in WWII from National Archives at ; portrait photo is public domain at ; Photo with Harry Truman is public domain at; Photo of USS Franklin listing public domain; See more about the USS Franklin at; An article from the New England Historical Society called "Joseph T. O'Callahan, A Claustrophobic Priest, Wins the Medal of Honor" at

Saturday, July 7, 2018

PT 59: John F. Kennedy’s Other Command

PT 59
(National Park Service
United States Navy Archives)

(Editor's Note: This article first appeared at
on August 7, 2017. It appears here with permission.)

By Adrian McGrath

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
John F. Kennedy from his inauguration speech, 1961

The dramatic story of survival that involved John F. Kennedy and the famous PT 109 is well known. The young man, who would one day become president of the United States, rescued his crew from almost certain death or capture by the Japanese during World War II after their boat was crushed and cut in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. The story of Kennedy’s daring and courage would aid him in his campaign for president in 1960. He became the first Irish Catholic president of the United States.

The Kennedy family’s connection to Ireland is well known. His paternal great grandfather was a refugee from Ireland, coming to America in the 1840s; and on his mother’s side, the Fitzgeralds, over time, became deeply involved in Irish Catholic politics in Boston, Massachusetts. In fact, all of John F. Kennedy's grandparents were the children of Irish immigrants.

The Fitzgeralds were originally from County Limerick in the west of Ireland; in the 1840s part of the family emigrated to America. On the Kennedy side, Patrick Kennedy left Wexford, also during the Potato Famine (Great Hunger) years, and came to the United States. Both families, the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, settled in Boston where they had to struggle to find work and fight against anti-Irish Catholic prejudice which existed at that time. They had to start out at the bottom of the social structure, but they worked their way up. The families worked as laborers, coopers, clerks, merchants, and operated pubs or taverns. Eventually, they went into politics. (For more on JFK and Ireland, see the website for the JFK Library at .

Lt JG Kennedy, aboard PT 109, 1943

During World War II John Kennedy had another boat and another command besides PT 109. He acquired it like this: After a skipper lost a boat, it was customary for him to be allowed to go back home to the USA. JFK, however, requested another combat assignment after losing the PT 109; and he got command of another Motor Torpedo Boat, the PT 59.

Interestingly enough, JFK had command of three PT boats in his naval career during World War II. His first boat was PT 101 (made by Higgins) which was just for his training as a new PT skipper when he was at Melville, Rhode Island with Motor Torpedo Squadron Four and later for training in Panama in weather conditions more like the Pacific. His second boat was, of course, the PT 109. And his final boat was the PT 59.

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron
Training Center, Portsmouth, RI, 1942
Back row, 7th from right is JFK

This boat, the 59, was redesigned to be a gunboat, not a torpedo boat. Its torpedoes and racks were removed and more guns and artillery were added. It added two anti-aircraft guns and .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine guns for a total of two twin .50 caliber machine guns, two 40 mm cannons, and several individual .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. PT 59 had a technical name now called PTGB1 or Patrol Torpedo Gunboat 1. Its purpose was to provide firepower and to attack enemy barges which usually transported Japanese troops and military supplies in fairly shallow and narrow waters.

The Solomon Islands, where Kennedy was stationed, had a series of small and medium size islands strung out for many, many miles. The PT boats were very useful in navigating these waters, but they were only made of wood and thus highly vulnerable to enemy fire. Their main defense was speed, maneuverability, and maybe a good offense. (Get the enemy before he gets you.)

Lt. JG Kennedy, 1943
In the South Pacific

Although Lieutenant JG Kennedy would see action for a few months in PT 59, one incident stands out and may have had a profound impact upon him physically and psychologically. This was a rescue mission where Kennedy was sent to Choiseul Island to help US Marines who were stranded on the beach and about to be overrun by enemy Japanese. He and his crew saved about 40 US Marines of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment from almost certain death or capture. (Capture might have been a worse fate than death at that time.)

In a diversionary action in November, 1943 known as Operation Blissful, US Marines went to Choiseul Island to trick the Japanese into thinking this was a full invasion. In fact it was a decoy for the real invasion which was on Bougainville, a large island which had a vital airfield. From this airfield, the US could use medium bombers and fighter planes to attack the major Japanese base at Rabaul in the Solomon Islands.

The Marines, who were on Choiseul for about a week, would be greatly outnumbered and low on supplies especially food, but would cause so much damage as to convince the enemy they had a larger force. Indeed, the Japanese were fooled and sent reinforcements to Choiseul. This significantly assisted the American invasion of Bougainville.

Higgins boat landing craft were sent to pick up the Marines, and Kennedy’s boat was to provide firepower and cover the evacuation. The Japanese soldiers were firing small arms, machine guns, and even mortar shells at the American landing craft and at PT 59. Some of the LCVP Higgins boats were damaged or hit by enemy fire, so the PT 59, while under enemy fire and while firing its own guns at the enemy positions, came in close to shore and picked up the stranded Marines. Some of the Marines were badly injured, and tragically one seriously wounded Marine actually died in Kennedy’s bunk where the Marine was placed.

Kennedy’s boat had set out on the mission in incredible haste and was without sufficient fuel. PT 59 itself then became stranded off the beach just out of the range of enemy fire. Fortunately, another PT boat (PT 236) sent as support towed the PT 59 back to safety.

The combat at Choiseul and Kennedy’s rescue mission were depicted in the popular film called “PT 109” in which Cliff Robertson played John Kennedy. With artistic license, possibly to make the film flow easier, the PT 109 was used instead of the PT 59 in the Choiseul rescue scene. At the end of the film, however, we do see that Kennedy is reassigned to PT 59. Some of his old crew members from the shipwrecked PT 109 joined Kennedy on the PT 59.

JFK at Tulagi (near Guadalcanal) with
other PT boat officers, 1943
(Wikimedia Commons)

After the Choiseul mission, Kennedy led PT 59 on missions searching for and attacking Japanese supply and troop barges. But the strain of the difficult missions of both PT 109 and PT 59 eventually took a toll on JFK who became physically and psychologically exhausted. (He had seriously injured his back earlier during the PT 109 mission.) He was sent to a doctor who sent him to a hospital on Tulagi, the American military base near Guadalcanal. In December of 1943 he was determined to be physically disabled and sent back to the USA.

John F. Kennedy's service to his country during the war was dramatic and dangerous. It is almost a miracle that he survived the war years. But his service to the United States of America was only just beginning.

Sources and further reading:
The film “PT 109,” Warner Brothers Pictures, 1963, based on the book PT 109 by Robert Donovan; Wikipedia article on PT 59 at; An article from the National Archives called “Operation Blissful” by Greg Bradsher at ; Wikipedia article on John F. Kennedy at; Article on Kennedy at the National Park Service at ; The photo of PT 59 is in pubic domain from the National Park Service article which states the photo is from the United States Navy Archives at ; Photo of JFK at Portsmouth, RI Training Center is in public domain at,_Oct._1942.jpg#mw-jump-to-license; Source on PT 59 at; Wikipedia article on Bougainville Campaign at; Photo of Kennedy in the South Pacific is from Wikipedia in public domain at,_circa_1943.jpg; JFK photo at Tulagi is in public domain from wikimedia at; The photo of Kennedy on the PT 109 is in public domain from Wikipedia at; The article called John F. Kennedy and PT Boat 59 by Dr. Greg Bradsher at ; The website for the JFK Library in Boston at .

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Audie Murphy: The Most Honored American Soldier

Audie Murphy: The Most Honored American Soldier

Audie Murphy.
He received more military
decorations for valor in combat
than any other American soldier.
The Medal of Honor is around his neck.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

(Editor's note: This article first appeared in www.irishamerican on Nov. 21, 2017 and appears here with permission.

By Adrian McGrath  

He was born in 1925 into poverty on a farm near Kingston, Texas near Dallas. He was the son of a sharecropper. In 1940 his father, Emmett, left home one day, as he had done several times during the Great Depression, looking for work; but this time he never returned. He just disappeared. His beloved mother, Josie, passed away in May of 1941 when he was just a teen. This loss deeply affected him. It was a sad loss of love and caring he could never replace throughout his whole life.

During elementary school he had to abandon his formal education to find work to help what remained of his destitute family. He picked cotton and did odd jobs. He learned to use a rifle to hunt wild game to help feed his many siblings. He had little time for hobbies, but when he did he liked to read and listen to his uncles talk about their experiences during the First World War. He wanted to be a soldier.

He was small and short, five foot five inches, and weighed around 112 pounds by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. His disposition was polite, even shy, and friendly … but he seemed to prefer being alone, and he could sometimes quickly get a bad temper. He was, however, extremely humble. He wanted to serve his country after the sneak attack which had killed his fellow Americans, so he went down to the recruiting station to join the Marines. But he was rejected for being too young and too small.

He tried again to get into military service, this time with the US Navy. He was rejected there too. He then tried the US Army. The Army rejected him at first too. So, he tried to gain a little weight and bulk up. He persuaded his older sister, Corinne, who was very close and caring towards him, to help him change his age on documents to show he was old enough. This time he was accepted -- by the US Army.

The reality of war that young Audie witnessed.
A wounded American soldier getting First Aid.
Photo from the National Archives

He passed out during Army basic training in Texas from heat stroke. He just collapsed from the hot weather carrying all the heavy military gear. The officers wanted to reassign him to others duties such as a cook, but he pleaded with them to stay in the infantry. Reluctantly, the Army let him continue infantry training.

There is an old saying, sometimes attributed to General Dwight Eisenhower himself: It is not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. The unlikely soldier in our story was Audie Murphy. By the time the war was over he would receive every single medal and honor for valor in combat the United States of America had to offer -- a total of 33. Plus some from France, including the Croix de Guerre, and from Belgium.

Most extraordinary of all, Audie Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor (a.k.a. Congressional Medal of Honor) for his incredibly courageous action in 1945.  He held the line, alone, against an attacking German company of combined infantry and tanks in the battle of the Colmar Pocket at Holtzwihr in Alsace.

Audie Murphy became the most decorated American soldier of World War II and indeed in all of American history. His accomplishments as a soldier were stunning beyond belief -- that such a slightly-built, mild mannered, self-effacing, and humble fellow could turn into a fearless, mighty warrior who destroyed Nazi troops with reckless abandon, totally disregarding his own personal safety, in the heat of bloody battle -- remains a puzzle to this day.

Rouffach, a town in Alsace,
was in the Colmar Pocket near where
Audie fought and received the
Medal of Honor. We see a US light tank
here. Photo Wikimedia Commons

It was often said that what made Audie a fierce fighter was the sudden death of his best friend, a fellow soldier who was killed by German gunfire in Italy. And while Audie was indeed always courageous in battle, he said after the war that he was always afraid and lived minute by minute. He did his duty despite his fear. The reason he fought so hard was to protect his friends, his brother soldiers.

But anyone who knows the Irish or Irish history would not be surprised. As the saying goes, Audie “got his Irish up” when faced with battle. He started as a buck private and finished as a major. Beloved by his fellow soldiers, he always gave credit to his comrades. Especially, he praised and grieved for his friends who did not come back alive. Reportedly, later in life he also grieved over the German soldiers he had to kill during combat.

Although he always wanted to be a soldier, he soon learned the reality of war. There was nothing glamorous or glorious about it. It was hard, terrifying, and savage. Kill or be killed. Audie stated in an interview well after the war that the best day he ever had while in the Army was the day he learned that the war in Europe was over.

Audie suffered after the war from what we today call post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. It was not understood at the time and often dismissed with mysterious phrases like “shell shock” or “combat fatigue.” Audie would frequently have nightmares about battles, and he had severe insomnia. Reportedly, he would sometimes sleep with a loaded gun under his pillow -- never really escaping the world of brutal and deadly combat, in his mind, though the war was actually over.

Years ahead of his time, he became an advocate for PTSD sufferers. Additionally, he had wounds to his legs which he received in battle, a foot wound from mortar shrapnel, gangrene from a wound to his hip, and malaria. He was classified by the Army with 50 percent disability at the war’s end.

He was a hero, but he was a wounded hero.

Audie was Irish on both sides of his family; his father was a Murphy, and his mother a Killian. Murphy is the Anglicized version of the Irish Gaelic “Murchadh,” and Killian is the Anglicized variant of the Irish Gaelic name “Cillin.”

Following are some, but not all of the numerous battles Audie was in and some of the medals he received while still a teenager or in his very early 20s.

Audie's enemy -- the fierce and
highly disciplined German soldier. Although
Audie destroyed many of them, he learned
quickly how dangerous the Germans were.
Photo from the National Archives

Audie started out in Operation Torch, the US invasion of North Africa. Then Audie served with the 3rd US Army Division in Sicily in 1943. He participated in the Italian Campaign near Anzio and Rome. In Italy he received the Bronze Star for destroying a German tank and was awarded other citations for combat duty. There he learned that the German soldier was a well-trained and dangerous enemy.

Audie then went to southern France and drove towards Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award besides the Congressional Medal of Honor, after running up a hill towards German machine gun nests which protected heavy German artillery and destroying them all. He certainly saved the lives of many American soldiers.

Audie took out Nazi snipers and more machine gun nests single-handedly. He was offered a raise in rank to be an officer, but at first he declined because he felt he lacked a formal education. Furthermore, he did not want to be separated from his fellow soldiers who were his friends. But after repeated acts of heroism and awards, he accepted the rank of Second Lieutenant and was allowed to remain with his unit.

Winter conditions on the French - German
border in early 1945. Audie was near here
in Alsace. This is a photo of the area nearby
during the Battle of the Bulge.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In January of 1945 under extremely frigid conditions in Alsace near the German border, Audie Murphy, now in command as First Lieutenant of a badly damaged American unit, single handedly stopped a German attack by infantry and tanks. Sending his men to the rear, Audie directed US Army artillery fire by radio while close to the enemy lines. Then he mounted a damaged and burning US M10 tank destroyer, an armored vehicle filled with fuel which could explode at any moment, and began to fire the mounted .50 caliber machine gun at the enemy. He aimed at the German infantry, knowing that the panzer tanks would not advance without infantry support and that a machine gun alone could not stop tanks. The plan worked.

An M10 US tank destroyer, the
type Audie mounted at the Colmar Pocket
and used its .50 cal machine gun to
stop the German attack.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Murphy’s machine gun fire stopped the German infantry and armor advance, giving the Americans time to recover. Murphy was wounded by enemy shrapnel and withdrew only after his men were safe and he ran out of ammunition.

For this incredible action, Audie Murphy was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award America has to give for combat.

There is a museum and monument today to Audie Murphy at the Colmar Battlefield in Alsace, France. It shows the respect the people of France have for Audie Murphy.

A monument and plaque to Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy
at the site of the Colmar Battlefield in Alsace, France. It depicts
Audie firing his .50 cal atop a burning M10 tank destroyer.
Original photograph courtesy of Robert Burch. Taken in 2016. 

Audie became a popular actor after the war, starring in many Western films and also in an excellent role as a Union soldier in the epic Civil War film, “The Red Badge of Courage.”

Audie starred in a film about his own life during World War II called “To Hell and Back” based on a book by the same name. But he insisted on historical accuracy and always gave the proper credit to his fellow soldiers.

Audie Murphy, the actor,
starring in "The Red Badge of Courage."
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Audie Murphy tragically died in his 40s in an airplane crash. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Audie Murphy, a descendant of the Irish, is perhaps the greatest American soldier of all time. He is America’s most honored soldier.

Sources and further reading:
. Audie Murphy at ; Audie Murphy: One Man Stand at Holtzwihr at ;  ; Audie Murphy at; See Irish names Murphy and Killian at and . Article at “Sweethearts of the West” website “American Hero and Western Star: Audie Murphy” by Caroline Clemmons ; Arlington Cemetery article on Audie Murphy
Photos -- All photos are from Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, or the National Archives and in public domain. Photo of the wounded American soldier at; Photo of the German soldier at; Photo of the tank destroyer at; Photo of the Battle of the Bulge soldier at; photo of Rouffach at; See more about Audie at

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Operation Sealion: Hitler's Plan to Invade England

German HE 111 bomber over London, 1940
Photo from Wikimedia Commons 
and Imperial War Museum

By Adrian McGrath

The Germans had a song from a poem called
“Wir fahren gegen Engeland.”  
In English this meant “We move against England.”
It was about a German sailor from World War I
who romantically had
one last drink with his comrades,
kissed his girlfriend goodbye, then ventured
off heroically to fight
the English.

The song became a rousing, upbeat tune, a march
designed to encourage the soldiers on to yet another
quick and spectacular victory
for the Wehrmacht, the German arms forces,
and the Kriegsmarine, the German Navy.

British soldiers fighting at Dunkirk, 1940
Photo from Wikipedia and the
Australian War Museum 

After defeating and occupying Poland, Denmark, Norway,
Belgium, Holland, and most impressively, France in a
Lightning War called Blitzkrieg, the Germans must have
felt invincible. The Germans' song about attacking
England seemed a perfect fit.

British Prisoners of War next
to a German panzer tank in
 Calais, France 1940
  Photo fromWikimedia Commons
and German Federal Archives

Since September of 1939 until June of 1940, the Nazi armies
had seen nothing but victory. The Soviet Union, a potential
enemy Hitler hated and feared, had suddenly been
neutralized by Hitler's cynical diplomacy, a mutual
non-aggression pact. Stalin and Hitler were now, more or
less, at peace with each other. Poland and France,
Hitler's enemies in the war so far, were both defeated.
Only Britain was left.

The British Army and some French troops were
miraculously evacuated at Dunkirk and brought back
to England. The soldiers were saved, but their heavy
equipment was lost, and the troops were beaten down
and demoralized.

The English Channel.
Note the short distance between Calais and Dover,
only about 33 miles. But the rough waters can be treacherous.
Photo from NASA satellite and Wikimedia Commons

All that stood between the Germans and a likely British
defeat, it seemed, was the treacherous English Channel
and a stubborn and defiant British leader named
Winston Churchill.

Winston Churchill
Photo from
Wikimedia Commons 

Operation Sealion was the German plan to invade
England. Hitler always had his mind on the East; he
wanted what he called Lebensraum or living space
for Germany, vast lands, resources, and enslaved
populations for Germany’s expansion. He wanted,
therefore, to attack Russia.

Adolf Hitler (left)
and Hermann Goering,
head of the Luftwaffe,
German air force. Berlin, 1938
Photo from Wikipedia 

But now Hitler in the summer of 1940 was facing
England alone.

Hitler was hesitant to invade Britain, wanting instead
a negotiated peace whereby Britain would give Germany
a free hand in Europe and become something of an ally,
a puppet, or at least a neutral of Germany’s.

Improvised German landing craft
The Germans lacked ships and
proper landing craft for Sealion.
Photo from Wikipedia
and German Federal Archive

But Hitler would not get a puppet in Winston Churchill who
vowed to “fight on the beaches” to the very end. So,
Hitler allowed for the initial steps of Sealion to go forth.

On July 16, 1940 Hitler ordered his military commanders to
draw up plans for the amphibious invasion of Britain called
in German Seelowe or in English Sealion. It would be
incredibly complex involving air, sea, and ground forces.
Target date for Sealion was September 15. This gave the
Germans only two months to prepare.
By October the weather and
seas in the English Channel would be so rough that an
amphibious invasion would be out of the question.

As was later learned when the Allies invaded France at
Normandy in 1944, several things were absolutely necessary
for a successful amphibious invasion. But two things were
paramount -- control of the air and control of the sea. Supply
was necessary, trained ground troops were necessary,
reinforcement was necessary, and so on. But without
control of the air and sea, invasion was basically impossible.

A Hawker Hurricane with
British troops, 1940
Photo from Wikipedia

So while the German soldiers sang their song about moving
against England, the Luftwaffe (German air Force) and the
Kriegsmarine (German Navy) had to clear the way for

The Battle of Britain

Hermann Goering (also spelled in German as Goring with
an umlaut on the “o”) was the head of the Luftwaffe, the
German air force. He had been a daring pilot in World
War I but was a braggart. He endlessly exaggerated his
importance and the ability of the Luftwaffe. Indeed, the
German air force had succeeded in Poland, Norway, the
Lowlands, and France, performing superbly as a tactical
support for German ground troops.

The Luftwaffe was a
key part of the Blitzkrieg -- which was an attack concentrated
at a key point by a breakthrough combination of air power,
tanks and armored vehicles, and artillery fire, followed by

German HE 111s on a
bombing mission over England
Photo from Wikipedia  

The Luftwaffe had destroyed enemy planes in the air
and on the ground and wrecked enemy air bases.
But when Hitler and Goering began the Battle of Britain
on August 15, 1940, a battle fought totally in the air, it
was a different story.

The Spitfire, the superb fighter
plane of the RAF Fighter Command
Photo from Wikipedia 

Now the Germans, who did not possess a four engine,
long range bomber like the American B17 but only had
medium, two engine bombers, had to achieve air
superiority and even air supremacy in order for
Sealion to prevail.

German ME 109,
their best fighter plane in 1940
Photo from Wikipedia and

Air superiority is a military term meaning to have greater
air power than the enemy. Air supremacy is a higher
condition where one’s air power is effectively
unchallenged by the
enemy. The Germans should have gotten air supremacy before invading,
but air superiority was at the very least essential for invasion.

Stuka, Ju 87
Though useful early in the war, the
Stuka was an easy target for a Spitfire.
Photo from Wikipedia, German Federal Archive

On August 15, named Eagle Day by the Germans,
massive numbers of German bombers and fighters, about
1000 planes in all, flew against England. There had been
prior to this some limited German attacks on British
shipping in the English Channel, but now a giant air
Armada was launched directly against English soil.

Member of the Observer Corps
looks for approaching German planes
during the Battle of Britain, 1940
Photo from Wikipedia  

The targets were airfields, radar stations, and even
aircraft factories. But the real target was the Royal Air
Force (RAF) Fighter Command itself. Goering wanted to
destroy the RAF in one attack. But at the end of the day,
the Germans lost 75 air planes to 34 for the British.

Messerschmitt 110
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
and Bundesarchiv

The Germans outnumbered the British, but they could not
afford to lose such numbers. The Germans faced
several problems. First, their planes had to fly from
bases in occupied France across the Channel to
targets inside England. The RAF, however, was
already at the targets. The British planes could stay
in the air while the Germans, especially the fighter
planes, had to return to base for lack of fuel.

JU 88 Junkers
Phoro from Wikimedia Commons
and Deutsches Bundesarchiv

Secondly, the German bombers, being only medium
with two engines, had limited range and limited bomb
loads. They also had only a few
machine guns for protection.

Dornier DO 17
Photo from Wikimedia Commons 
and Deutsches Bundesarchiv

German planes were now no longer supporting ground
attacks as earlier in the war but were conducting
strategic bombing (attacking infrastructure --
airfields, radar and communication centers, etc),
something these planes were
not designed for.

The Stuka, the Heinkel HE 111,
the Dornier DO 17, the Junkers JU 88, and the
Messerschmitt ME 110, all good
bombers earlier in the war, now found themselves
beingmauled by the Hawker Hurricanes of the
RAF and especially by the outstanding British
fighter called the Spitfire.

The Germans had an excellent fighter plane called
the Messerschmitt 109 or ME 109, a.k.a. BF 109, but it
had limited range and air time because of the distance
to targets and fuel issues.

The Germans had the numbers, but the British had
the home field advantage and excellent fighter planes.

Nevertheless, had Goering and Hitler continued to bomb
the air fields and bases and aircraft factories, the
Germans might have reduced RAF Fighter Command
to the point of gaining German air superiority. They may
have also driven the British bases further away from the
coast, making them less able to deal with a cross
channel invasion.

Instead, because Churchill had Bomber Command
bomb Berlin, the Nazis retaliated by bombing London.
This was known as “the Blitz” of London. Although this
was destructive and terrifying, it was an extremely foolish
move militarily for the Germans. Not only did the Luftwaffe
lose planes, but now the British had time to rebuild and
repair air bases and airfields ... and even build new planes.

The RAF, at the start of the Battle of Britain, had about
700 airplanes. About 600 were fighter planes,
Hurricanes and Spitfires. The Germans had about 1400
bombers and 1300 fighter planes. By the end of
September 17 when Hitler indefinitely postponed Sealion,
the British had lost hundreds of fighter planes, and
the Germans had lost over 2000.

The inadequate German bombers and the strategic missions they
were not intended for, plus foolish decisions by Hitler
and Goering, such as bombing London by day,
and continuing bombing by night when daylight
raids proved too costly, plus outstanding efforts
by RAF Fighter Command, and a resolute Winston
Churchill resulted in a defeat for Germany in
the air Battle of Britain.

The German Navy -- consisting mainly of U-Boats
and a few surface ships and being no match for the
Royal Navy which had many destroyers, cruisers,
and battleships -- could not possibly protect an invasion
fleet using improvised barges as landing craft.

Could Sealion have Worked?

In 1974 the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst
conducted a wargame to test the feasibility of Sealion.
They concluded that with air power properly used,
with paratroops, and a screen of sea mines and the
best use of the Kriegsmarine and U-Boats, the Germans
could possibly land troops in Southeast England.

The Supermarine Spitfire,
with the Hurricane, it saved Britain in
1940 from possible invasion and defeat
Photo from Wikipedia 

But the Royal Navy would be powerful enough to
stop any second wave of landings and thereby cut
off the German supply line. German troops in England
would be without “beans, bullets, and bandages” -- no food,
ammunition, or medical supplies. As a result the Germans
would die or surrender on land. The Royal Navy would sink
German supply and troop ships at sea.
The result would be a German defeat.

A British destroyer during
World War 2
Photo from Wikipedia  

Had the Germans attained air supremacy, and been
trained as the Japanese had been to attack ships with aircraft,
had the German Navy laid mine fields at sea to protect
invasion sea lanes, had the U-Boats been able to hold off
the Royal Navy for awhile, had the weather been good for
German paratroops to land, had the Germans been able to
land tanks and armored vehicles, had the Germans been
able to resupply their army in the field in Southeast England
after the initial invasion, and had the Germans successfully
created a diversion to confuse and distract
the British, then maybe Sealion might
have succeeded.

But the odds were that Sealion would fail.

So, much like Napoleon had done a century before,
Hitler turned Eastward to attack Russia instead.

Sources and Further Reading:
The American Heritage Picture History of
World War II by C. L Sulzberger and American Heritage
Publishing, 1966; Wikipedia article on Operation