Tag Archives: World War II

“Secret Operation Z”: the Japanese air strikes on Pearl Harbor 73 years ago today

06:14, Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone (UTC-10:00), 7 December, 1941; 221 miles north of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean.

Navigating through a dark, Pacific morning under strict radio silence the Japanese aircraft carriers Zuikaku, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and task force flagship Akagi came about into the wind on mild seas. Deck crews stood ready at the wheel chocks of idling attack aircraft with exhaust flame flickering from their cowlings. Dawn would break in minutes. Communications officers on the high decks changed signal flags to indicate the attack was underway.

Chocks were pulled and throttles advanced as 50 Nakajima Kate dive bombers began there short take off rolls from the carrier decks. They were laden with massive, specially designed 1,760-pound armor-piercing bombs. Another 40 Kates carrying top-secret long-finned, shallow water torpedoes thundered forward on the flight deck, drowning out the cries of “Bonzai! Bonzai!” from the deck crew.

Secret Operation Z was under way. The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most successful combat operations in history. Achieved with total surprise after maintaining strict security a massive naval armada of over 60 total Japanese vessels crossed 3000+ miles to stage near simultaneous attacks on multiple targets with miraculous precision and minor losses. The American naval capability was compromised to such a degree that it would take months to mount a tangible offensive in the Pacific. That more Americans did not die at Pearl Harbor is likely a function of the attack coming early on a Sunday morning.

Days earlier on November 26 the secret task force had left the covert naval installation at Etorofu Island and sailed over 2100 miles to its “initial point”. On December 2nd they were assembled stealthily under cover of bad weather to begin their final attack run toward the aircraft launch area north of Oahu. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, back on mainland Japan, issued a coded radio message via morse, “新高を登る!” or “Climb Mount Niitaka!”. This signaled the attack was to proceed as planned.

A new U.S. Army SCR-270 mobile radar array mounted high up Opana Point on Oahu detected the Japanese attack force 70 miles away but believed they were friendly aircraft. At 07:40 local the Japanese attack force spotted the Hawaiian coast at Kakuku Point. They had navigated partially by following the radio transmissions of music from the island.

The attack began with total surprise and withering precision. Air superiority over Pearl Harbor was quickly established by lightweight, highly maneuverable Japanese A6M2 Zero fighters, the equivalent of today’s F-16. The Americans were unable to mount an effective air defense. As a result, air-attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida transmitted a famous morse radio message in the clear, “トラ,トラ,トラ…” or “To-ra, to-ra, to-ra!”.

Fuchida’s torpedo and dive bombers destroyed their targets with impunity as the Americans attempted to mount a defense with anti-aircraft guns. Two ships, the USS Nevada and USS Aylwin were able to start their boilers and run for the channel toward open ocean. Only the Aylwin, staffed by four new junior officers, made it to sea. The Nevada ran aground intentionally in Pearl Harbor after its commander was seriously wounded.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was an incredible tactical and strategic success for the Japanese. It put the Americans on the back foot at the beginning of WWII. There were 2,402 Americans killed in the attack. By comparison 2,977 people in the U.S. died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

This article originally appeared at Alert5.net

 

Here’s how Israel managed to get three second hand B-17 Flying Fortress bombers

When the Egyptian Air Force started attacking Tel Aviv on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel announced independence, the Jewish state felt the need to respond to the Egyptian air raids. In spite of the large U.S. market of World War II surplus equipment, the only heavy bomber that was readily available and could procured was the Boeing B-17.

The B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were acquired thanks to Al Schwimmer, a World War II USAAF (United States Army Air Force) flight engineer that during the second half of 1947 purchased and delivered the surplus transport aircraft that eventually built up the Israeli Air Force Air Transport Command.

Schwimmer (the founder and first CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries) found the future Israeli bombers among the Flying Fortress aircraft already flying with the numerous start-up airlines formed after the end of WWII.

As reported by Bill Norton in his book Air War on the Edge, A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947, two B-17s (s/n 44-83851 and 44-83753) were acquired for 30,000 USD from Charles Winters which used them for his freight business between Florida and Puerto Rico, while two more planes were purchased from Donald H. Roberts of Tulsa. The four B-17s were legally registered, commercially modified and above all, they were airworthy airframes, meaning that they could fly on their own power all the way from the U.S. to Israel.

Planned route for the Flying Fortress was Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Juan to Santa Maria, Azores; and Azores to Zatec Czechoslovakia, for an epic 10,600 kilometer flight of at least 38 hours duration over the Atlantic Ocean and across the Iron Curtain.

The first three B-17s took off on Jun. 11, 1948 and their ferry flight was explained by David Goldberg, who was the co-pilot of one of the three bombers. Goldberg released his impressions for Wing Magazine Volume 11, February 1981. The same story was later reported also in Shlomo Aloni & Zvi Avidror book Hammers Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron:

“I had flown B-24s with the 15th Air Force in Italy during the war. While making cargo runs out of Miami in the spring of 1948, I was contacted by phone and asked if I’d be interested in earning $ 1000 to ferry an airplane to Europe. I said sure. […] A few days before we were to depart I was asked if I’ d fly as co-pilot instead of pilot, since they now had found a colonel who was supposed to have had a great deal of B-17 time, and, also, his name would look better on the documents. The money was the same, so I agreed. Our flight from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was uneventful. Besides the colonel and myself we had picked up a navigator and about ten young men classified as ‘cargo handlers’.”

The rest of the ferry flight was quite a scary adventure which saw Goldberg flying the B-17 most of the time: “The colonel got roaring drunk at San Juan and stayed that way up to departure time. The next morning we have managed to pour him into the plane, and the navigator and I flew it out. From San Juan we were heading to the Azores Islands. That would take 21 hours, and we had 24 hours of fuel on board. When we were about 10 hours out the colonel was coming around to relieve me so I could get some rest. I had just fallen asleep in the back when I was awakened with a great deal of excitement and told that Cohen, the navigator, had fallen through a glassed-over section in the floor of the nose that had been put there for aerial photography. The guy was barely hanging on, and was slowly being sucked out by the slipstream. I ran back to the cockpit to get the aircraft slowed down. Col. B— had gone to pieces and was shaking like a leaf. I slowed the plane down and put it on auto-pilot and went down to help pull the navigator back in. We succeeded, but he was absolutely useless after that, and we now had to find the Azores without him.”

Incredibly Goldberg and his aircrew were able to find the Portuguese islands: “By a stroke of luck we were able to pick up the airway radio beacon from Santa Maria after 20 hours of flying – but the weather had turned bad and the ceiling was low. The island is covered with mountains, and Col. B— then announced that an instrument approach would be too risky, so he was going to ditch the plane off the coast. I said that was crazy, and that I would make the approach. He refused to get out of the left-hand seat. It was time for some drastic action. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and told him I’d crush his skull if he didn’t get out of the f—-ing seat. He left, we landed safely… And I completed the rest of the flight to Czechoslovakia alone in the cockpit!”

As already said, after reaching Santa Maria, Azores, the three B-17s were planned to fly to Zatec, Czechoslovakia, but since the American authorities were not far behind, the bombers had to move on quickly. So, with the prior consent of French officials the crews filed a flight plan for Ajaccio, Corse, but instead they landed at Zatec on June 17, where the Israeli airlift was going on in earnest.

However the American press reports had already uncovered the affair from June 16, when news circulated that several American surplus warplanes had departed from Ajaccio to Palestine: moreover, despite arrangements, the French would not confirm the arrival of the aircraft at Ajaccio and they were declared missing.

The public exposure of the three B-17s’ epic flight made the delivery of the last bomber really difficult: in fact the fourth Flying Fortress never reached Israel since, at the request of the United States, Portuguese officials impounded the aircraft indefinitely at the Azores.

However three B-17s arrived in Israel and thanks to them the Israeli Air Force was able to respond to the Egyptian bombings only two months later, when the three Flying Fortress raided Cairo: these bombers were also the first aircraft flown by the legendary 69 Squadron Hammers, that today flies another Boeing product, the powerful F-15I Ra’am (Thunder).

Image credit: Wiki

 

Typhoon with D-Day invasion stripes among Duxford D-Day Anniversary Airshow highlights

Here are some of the highlights of Duxford D-Day Anniversary Air Show.

The first airshow of the season at Duxford celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

Among the highlights of the D-Day Anniversary Air Show there was a flypast made by a Eurofighter Typhoon of the 29 Sqn from RAF Coningsby, representing its namesake predecessor (the Hawker Typhoon), and a Spitfire of the BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight).

Both aircraft were painted with the characteristic “invasion stripes”, alternating black and white bands painted on the fuselages and wings of allied aircraft during WWII Normandy campaign to increase recognition by friendly forces and reduce friendly fire incidents.

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Other interesting aircraft attending the air show were five DC-3/C-47 Dakotas, including “Whiskey 7,” a veteran of the air drops over France in 1944, which crossed the Atlantic Ocean to attend the D-Day celebrations.

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A Boeing B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress.

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A North American P-51D Mustang flying with a Vickers Supermarine Spitfire.

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A Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon (a Spanish-built Bf-109 with Rolls-Royce engine).

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More images of the numerous interesting warbirds that attended the Air Show can be found here.

All images credit: Alessandro Fucito

 

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Photo comparison shows D-Day beaches as they were in 1944 and as they are today

RAF reconnaissance planes have taken shots of the D-Day beaches after 70 years. With today’s stand-off technology and higher resolutions.

RAF Tornado GR4 jets from II (AC – Army Co-operation) Squadron from RAF Marham have used today’s technology to emulate their World War II counterparts that, on D-Day, Jun. 6, 1944, took the first pictures of the Normandy landings.

The two Tornados flew at 400 mph and 20,000 feet over Gold, Juno, Utah and Sword beaches, replicating the images the same squadron and their Mustang brought back during the 36 reconnaissance sorties flown on D-Day.

70 years ago, II (AC) Squadron used bulky cameras loaded onto the bottom of the Mustangs to get panoramic images of the beaches. Today, a single Tornado sortie provides much better results using the RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado) which takes aerial images and the Litening III Advanced Targeting Pod that is able to capture Full motion video.

Here’s the comparison between the quality of images taken today as compared to those of 1944.

 

Image credit: Crown Copyright

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Army Air Force Video explains how to evade Flak (anti-aircraft fire) in WWII

Over Germany, Italy, Japan, “Flak” (anti-aircraft gun) was, along with enemy fighters, the main threat to Allied bombers.

An Army Air Force training film explains FlaK (from the German word for Anti-aircraft gun – Flugabwehrkanone): how heavy, smal caliber and automatic gun worked, the way they could aim at aircraft formations flying at 27,000 feet and 320 mph and evasive maneuvers for bomber pilots to avoid being hit by anti-aircraft fire.

Obviously, technology behind AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) has improved a lot since 1944 with radar guided bursts, but concepts like continuously pointed fire and predicted concentration are still used as a base of calculations required to shot down air intruders around the world; hence, even if you won’t face flak over Japan or Germany like U.S. pilots did 70 years ago, anti-aircraft artillery batteries still pose a threat to modern warplanes equipped with cutting edge EW (Electronic Warfare) suites and stealth planes.

 

H/T to Matt Fanning for the heads-up.

 

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