Why Did Germany Keep Fighting World War Two After 1942?

Why Did Germany Keep Fighting World War Two After 1942?

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This article is an edited transcript of World War Two: A Forgotten Narrative with James Holland available on Our Site TV.

Dan sits down with renowned World War Two historian James Holland to discuss the forgotten, yet critically-important logistical and operational history of World War Two.

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It’s actually extraordinarily surprising that the Wehrmacht (the armed forces of Nazi Germany) did as well as it did in World War Two. It is amazing that it got from Brittany to the Volga given that the German fighting machine was totally rubbish in lots of ways.

The Wehrmacht was good on a tactical level. Or, at least, the best of the Wehrmacht were. The big thing they had during the second half of the war was discipline.

But if you look at World War One, why did Germany sign an armistice in November 1918? It was because it had run out of money and wasn’t going to win.

Well, by that reckoning, you could say that by the middle of 1942, the Nazis should have been ready to surrender. But they didn’t.

It breaks all the codes of recent warfare that Germany would carry on in 1942 because it clearly was not going to win. Despite all the talk of wonder weapons and all the rest of it, it was not going to happen.

La-la land

Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were two talented, courageous, and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to become the only female test pilots in Hitler’s Germany. Both were brilliant pilots, both were great patriots, and both had a strong sense of honour and duty – but in every other respect they could not have been more different.

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What’s so amazing is that if you think about the war in the East and look at the Eastern Front and the German drive in the summer of 1942 down to the Caucuses, you have to wonder, “What are the Germans going to do if they get to those oil fields? What is going to happen?”.

First of all, the Russians weren’t going to let them get out there; they were going to destroy them first.

But just say the Russians didn’t, what was going to happen once the Germans got to Baku and Azerbaijan and they got all that oil? How were they going to transport it to the front? Because how you transported oil in World War Two was by ship.

Well the Germans didn’t have any of that. They weren’t going to be able to get through the Mediterranean and out around the North Sea and back into the Baltic – that wasn’t going to happen. So the only way they were going to be able to get the oil out was by rail. But they didn’t have the rails.

There were no pipelines back into Germany. It was just bonkers, absolute la-la land.

So to really understand World War Two is to understand how the Germans kept going when all around their position was falling. And the truth was discipline and making do with less – all that sort of stuff.

The squandered Heinkel 112

The Heinkel 112 in flight.

And yet, at the same time, they squandered so much. Before the war they had the world’s two best fighter airplanes by a country mile, and one of them they never used. The Heinkel 112 had a range of some 750 miles, the same armament as a Messerschmitt 109 and an inward-folding undercarriage.

So it was incredibly stable on the ground, which was really good news if you were a greenhorn straight from flying school.

It had elliptical wings like the Spitfire, an amazing rate of climb, and it was fast. In terms of performance, it was fractionally below the 109 and what a winning combination that could have been.

But instead the Germans binned it because Heinkel had a “whiff” of being Jewish about him, and Hitler didn’t like it. And so the Germans went for the Messerschmitt 110 instead, which was a two-engine fighter plane and a total dud.

Why were some Japanese soldiers still fighting decades after World War II?

By 1944, the Japanese imperial military was aware that its air force was outgunned. The Allies had better planes that were more advanced and capable of traveling longer distances. The Japanese air fleet was growing outdated in the midst of the second World War.

In response, Vice Adm. Onishi Takijiro, a commander in the Imperial Navy, made a radical suggestion: Rather than update planes, they could turn some of the aging fleet into piloted bombs to be crashed into Allied ships. The pilots would carry out literal suicide missions. Takijiro's plan worked.

At the battle for the Gulf of Leyte, kamikaze ("divine wind") pilots made their debut with tremendous effect, taking out the USS St. Lo with 144 men aboard [source: PBS]. Kamikaze pilots made a much larger impression during the battle for Okinawa, when as many as 300 planes outfitted with 550-pound (250-kg) bombs were driven by their pilots into the Allied ships headed toward Japan [source: PBS].

The kamikaze proved to be an effective, unconventional tool in the Japanese arsenal during World War II. When the enemy's determination to survive a battle is taken out of the equation, that enemy becomes exponentially more dangerous. But this begs the question: How did the Japanese military convince thousands of pilots to purposely and knowingly sacrifice their lives?

That answer lies largely in the concept of bushido, a code developed in the early 18th century that governs the conduct of samurai warriors. It demands bravery and unflinching self-sacrifice [source: Friday]. Honor comes from death, disgrace from surrender.

Historians have a hard time reconciling the feudal concept of bushido with what the Japanese government sold its soldiers in World War II. When examined side by side, the modern version exacts a much higher toll on adherents. It worked nonetheless. Honor was bestowed on those true believers who willingly gave their lives, much like the suicide bombers today in the Middle East receive.

The concept of bushido wasn't reserved for Japanese pilots it was extended to all of the Japanese military. This explains why some Japanese soldiers were still fighting decades after World War II ended.

It's a bit ironic that bushido was pushed by the Japanese government onto its troops during World War II. The idea was penned at a time when the samurai had created a place at the top of Japanese society after centuries of bravery, valor and military strength. Generations of these warriors had done too good a job, bringing Japan to decades of peace and effectively making the samurai obsolete. By the 18th century, the time bushido was conceptualized, the samurai were loafing.

Yet samurai remained revered as noble fighters centuries later, sources of national pride and figures to be imitated. Much of the Japanese military bought into a resurgence of bushido just 5 percent of Japan's soldiers surrendered during the war. The rest were captured or killed.

Oftentimes, locales that seem inconsequential during times of peace become of vital strategic importance during war. Such was the case with some Pacific islands, like Guam, Saipan, Midway and islands in the Philippines. To the Japanese, keeping Allied forces off these islands meant protecting Japan. To the Allies, possession of these islands provided key locations for staging bombing raids on Japan. It's unsurprising that a number of Pacific islands saw some of the most intense fighting and highest casualty rates in the war.

A strategy the Japanese used to claim or defend these islands was to flood them with huge numbers of soldiers. Some of the hard-fought Pacific islands offered forested mountains as hiding places. Once Allied forces invaded and overtook a locale, search parties hunted and killed what came to be known as stragglers or holdouts -- soldiers who refused to surrender on account of upholding bushido.

In most cases, the search parties killed or captured Japanese soldiers. In Guam in 1944, a joint American-Guamanian force rooted out thousands of Japanese holdouts after the Marines took Guam. For months, this force killed as many as 80 Japanese soldiers on Guam per day, diminishing the thousands of holdouts down to just a few [source: Popernack]. As the number of Japanese alive or at large on the Pacific islands dwindled, those remaining proved the most elusive. And these soldiers' adherence to bushido, combined with the remoteness of some of these islands, left some holdouts still fighting World War II decades after the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered in August 1945.

Some of these holdouts simply chose to create a new life where they'd been left after the war ended. One soldier remained on an island off the coast of eastern Russia that he was charged with defending until 1958. He eventually settled in Ukraine and started a new family before returning to visit Japan in 2006 [source: IHT]. Sometimes the situations were less idyllic. One Japanese private reported upon surrender that he'd chosen to emerge because the group of holdouts to which he belonged had succumbed to cannibalism [source: Triplet].

Other groups got along a little better. A group of 30 Japanese soldiers and nationals, including one woman, were shipwrecked on Anatahan, a small island near Saipan. The group formed a microcosmic society, making their own clothes, hunting and foraging for food and making wine distilled from coconut milk. From 1944 to 1951, this group held out, finally emerging from the forest after a joint American-Japanese effort to convince the stragglers that the war was over [source: CNMI Guide].

2 Answers 2

While it is absolutely true that oil was the primary strategic goal of Fall Blau and indeed of whole the German offensive effort in 1942, way to achieve that goal was more complex. The Germans did enjoy a slight numerical superiority at the beginning of Barbarossa, due to the Soviet losses and piecemeal deployment of raw replacements, they held that advantage until roughly December of 1941. It was no longer the case in 1942, so they had to select a section of the front where to attack, concentrate forces there without giving the Soviets advance notice, encircle and destroy a large part of the Red Army, and somehow prevent a subsequent large counter-offensive.

Now, just by looking at the map, it is clear that if you intend to drive towards Maykop, Grozny and Baku, distances would be enormous and already long front lines would be even longer. If you leave Soviet troops near Voronezh (which were initially part of Bryansk Front) unmolested, they could strike at your flank at an opportune time and cut you off. It is much better to destroy them or push them to the left bank of the Don, and use river as a natural obstacle to cover your advancing forces.

One more thing to consider is deception: The Soviets believed, and Germans did everything possible to reinforce this belief, that the major German effort in 1942 would be towards Moscow. To this end, Germans even organized Fall Kreml, a large deceptive effort to persuade the Soviets to keep large formations at Moscow direction. Even as Fall Blau unfolded, there was still opportunity to go to north-northeast direction towards Moscow from Voronezh. This illusion was further reinforced when during the battle of Voronezh German forces briefly crossed the river to the left bank of the Don.

One final thing to note - the Germans were hoping to repeat their large encirclement battles of the previous summer. When this did not materialize on the scale they wished, they started deluding themselves that the Soviets were near the end of their manpower reserves. German leadership knew that if the Red Army was not destroyed, a Soviet winter counter-offensive was bound to happen somewhere (and historically major efforts were at two places - Stalingrad and Rzhev). Therefore, before trying to capture any oil, it was prudent to shatter as much as possible of the Red Army. In the first part of the campaign, German efforts were aimed more at this goal and then somewhere from mid July, they started to move towards their primary objectives.

Kudos to Bobby House on Quora for providing "the" answer to "Why Was Stalingrad So Hard to Capture In World War II?" My answer builds on his, which I cannot fully link to on Quora.

Voronezh was an essential element of an earlier, more limited version of Fall Blau, contained in Hitler's Directive 41. The economic purpose of the original plan was to cut off the Soviets from oil and other supplies, and only secondarily, to obtain them for Germany.

To this end, the first step was to establish a northern anchor of the German southern front, on the Don River. Voronzezh was a city just east of the Don, a good place for just this anchor. Because Stalin had been deceived into thinking that the main German thrust would be toward Moscow, the defeated Russian troops would either be pushed north, out of the way of the German offensive, or "trapped" if they tried to move south in front of the main German thrust discussed below.

The second step was to use some of the victorious Germans of Army Group B (Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army) to advance east from the Don to the Volga, and capture or isolate Stalingrad on its way south (and east). Later, it was Hitler who contravened his earlier order, and directed Hoth to bypass Stalingrad on his way south.

With Stalingrad in the "bag," Army Group A to the south would surge forward (east) and join Hoth's group in capturing the west bank of the Volga between Stalingrad and Astrakhan. This would interdict Russian oil shipments going north along the Caspian sea, and up the Volga, or along railroads on the east bank of the Volga, parallel to the river.

Only after these goals had been achieved, and Army Group B was firmly ensconced along the lower Volga and middle to lower Don, would Army Group A "split off" south into the Caucasus, hopefully capturing Maikop (which they did) and Grozny (which they nearly did).

The timetable would have ruled out an advance on Baku, at least in 1942, but Germany did not have a realistic hope of capturing it anyway. The oilfields at Maikop and Grozny could have been restored in late 1943, early to enough to help Germany, if it had succeeded in holding its positions on the Don and Volga.

During the course of the plan, Hitler became more concerned about capturing oil for Germany than denying it to the Russians, so he skipped the "intermediate" phases of Fall Blau (the Stalingrad to Astrakhan part), and ordered Hoth to go due south to help Army Group A break through at Rostov. As it were, the two German armies got in each other's way around Rostov, while the Russians were able to reinforce Stalingrad "and the rest is history."

The "fly in the ointment," is that the Russian generals (after the disastrous battle of Kharkov), did not leave large numbers of troops to be surrounded and captured the Soviet army would live to fight another day. Under this version of Fall Blau, the 1942 campaign might have been "trivial" that is, the Germans would have taken and held all the land they actually took, plus Grozny, and a stretch of the lower Volga between Stalingrad and Astrakhan. The "battle of Stalingrad" might have been a replay of Voronezh, a "small" battle, not a turning point in the war.

Such success in the original Fall Blau would not have won the war for Germany. But it would have prolonged it for at least a year (absent the atomic bomb), because it would have taken the Soviets at least until mid-1944 to get back to their actual "start" line around Kursk of the summer of 1943. Also, with more oil from Maikop and Grozny, the Germans might not have succumbed to the offensives of the Western Allies as quickly as they did. Meanwhile, the Russians would still have their oil at Baku, but would have to ship it via a "long" route, east through Iran, then through Kazakhstan, and then back to Russia. Ditto for Allied "Lend Lease" supplies arriving in Iran.

9 Answers 9

"Hitler had a big point though. In 1940 Baku was producing 22.2 million metric tons of oil, comprising 72% of total Soviet oil production. In 1941, it produced 25.4 Mt"

I'll need to see if 1941/42 estimates exist, but 72% loss would likely cripple USSR.

As far as Soviets migrating oil production East, the same article continues:

All the nine drilling offices, oil-expedition and oil-construction trusts as well as various other enterprises with their staffs were transferred to an area near Kuybishev, (Russia Federation in Tartarstan near the Ural Mountains north of Kazakhstan). This city soon came to be known as "the Second Baku".

Despite the severe frost the drillers started searching for oil and thanks to day and night working, the Bakuis in the region of Povolzhye increased the fuel extraction in "Kinelneft" trust that first year by 66% and by 42% in entire region of Kuybishev. As a result, five new oil and gas fields were discovered and huge oil refinery construction projects were undertaken, including the first pipe line between Kuybishev and Buturslan was built that same year.

No numbers are given for totals, but if Baku was 72%, plus Grozny and Maikop probably adding up to at least 5-10% more, the rest of Eastern USSR was at most 20-25% - and even nicreasing that WHOLE by 66% would only get you 40% of pre-caucasus-capture totals.

I've read quite a bit about WW2 on the Eastern Front. I think that the Soviets would've included Baku in their scorched earth strategy if the Germans got within 50-100 miles and seemed poised to take the city. If they destroyed the wells, the Germans never would've gotten them operating. Just destroying the refineries may have been enough to foil the Germans, as described below.

But even if they captured the fields relatively intact, how would they have gotten the oil to Germany? Germany's transport was inadequate. They didn't have the rolling stock available to ship that oil by rail, or enough tankers to cross the Black Sea.

As for what Russia would do without Baku production, no doubt US Lend-Lease would have changed priorities. The US was the largest oil producer and exporter at that time. I also think that the US would've sent teams of geologists over to help find and exploit new fields within parts of the Soviet Union that were far from the fighting, and the Soviets may have even welcomed experts who could improve refinery and pipeline operations, as the Russian operations and processes were probably inefficient.

Also, if this still wasn't enough, a portion of Russian agriculture could've been redirected to produce crops that could be distilled into fuel. The great GM engineer Kettering said this would probably work in the US if it ran low on oil (which, incredibly, was a concern in the 1920s in the US). A command economy system like the Soviet one could have imposed something like this easier than most countries could.

In 1945 the oil production of the Caucasus was down by 50 % compared to 1940 : 13 million to 27 million,and still the Soviets were in Berlin . What is decisive is not how much oil the Soviets produced, but how much oil they needed and what were their reserves (the oil reserves for the military were in 1945 some 1,2 million ton )

Yes,the Red Army would have continued fighting without Baku oil.

Germany could not have extracted much Baku oil - they could never have shipped it to the Reich. But they could have use demolitions and wrecked the Baku oilfields for years. But the Russians had plenty of alternative sources. Under any set of facts, the Russians had an almost unlimited source of strategic supply thru Vladivostok.

By 1945, German fuel manufacturing was kaput from Allied bombing, and the Western Allies were deep inside Germany. It would not have mattered if the Red Army was near or far from Berlin or with or without oil. Germany was a bombed wreck by 1945. Even an extra million more well equipped German troops would not have mattered. German haf no gas by April, 1945.

This is the most important reason why Hitler was a fool to attack Russia. After the failed attack on Moscow,the Germans could never win b/c they didn't have fuel.

I agree with comments made by Schwern. No need to ship the oil back to Germany (more likely back to Polesti since they had refining capacity for double the production of the oil fields at that time). If refining capability existed near the wells, the best logistical solution is to use Russian oil in Russia as long as needed there.

This could create three scenarios that in combination may have been significant for the German war effort at the time:

1) A close, possibly plentiful, supply of fuel and oil for the Nazi war effort in Russia. This closer supply would require less milage for tankers to get to the front as well as less "Injun country" for shipments to move through, freeing up more soldiers, equipment and arms and decreasing wasted fuel and longer transit times.
2) A higher percentage of current production in the Polesti oil fields could be used in Germany or by the axis' oil starved allies. And again, less waste of fuel, equipment, arms and soldiers for trannsit. 3) Denial of the current supply lines of oil to the Russian war effort. Who knows what additional difficulties this could have caused the Russians after a few months as their strategic reserves dwindled? Who knows for sure if they would have had the ability to acquire, refine and distribute from other sources in time?

If the oil fields could have been captured relatively intact (a big if, i know. But, this is a question about ifs) who knows where it would have led? It is a certainty that the German offensive in Summer '42 could have been expanded to include other objectives that lack of fuel did not allow at the time. More importantly with plentiful fuel supplies the Southern offensive could have continued indefinitely, possibly changing everything.

German armed forces Edit

Hitler Youth Edit

Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) was established as an organization in Nazi Germany that physically trained youth and indoctrinated them with Nazi ideology to the point of fanaticism. Even at the onset of war, the Hitler Youth totalled 8.8 million members. Numbers decreased significantly (to just over one million) once the war began, as many local and district leaders were drafted for the national army. [1] The previous average age for local and district leaders was 24, but following the onset of war, this had to change to those who were 16 and 17 years of age. These youths were in command of up to 500 boys. [2]

One Hitler Youth soldier, Heinz Shuetze aged 15 from Leipzig, was only given a half-day of training with a Panzerfaust. He was immediately given an SS uniform and directed to the front lines to fight. [3]

Huge numbers of youths were removed from school in early 1945, and sent on what were essentially suicide missions. [4] Hitler Youth activities often included learning to throw grenades and dig trenches, bayonet drills and escaping under barbed wire under pistol fire the boys were encouraged to find these activities exhilarating and exciting. [5] The Hitler Youth was essentially an army of fit, young Germans that Hitler had created, trained to fight for their country. They had the "choice" either to follow Nazi party orders or to face trial with the possibility of execution. [6]

The boys of Hitler Youth first saw action following the British air raids in Berlin in 1940. Later, in 1942, the Wehrertüchtigungslager or WEL (Defense Strengthening Camps) were created in Germany they were designed to train Hitler Youth boys aged 16–18. They learnt how to handle German infantry weaponry, including hand grenades, machine guns and hand pistols. By 1943, Hitler Youth boys were facing the forces of Britain, the United States and Soviet Russia. [7]

Even younger boys from the ages of 10–14 years could be involved in the Hitler Youth movement, under the Deutsches Jungvolk. [8]

Girls were also involved in Hitler Youth Operations, although in a limited capacity, through the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, the League of German Girls). [9] Avoiding direct armed conflict, their primary role was to produce healthy, racially pure baby boys. [10] They were also required to run 60 metres in 14 seconds, throw a ball at least 12 metres, march for 2 hours and swim 100 metres. [11]

SS Youth Division Edit

Towards the end of the war, the Germans established an entire SS Panzer Tank Division with the majority of its recruits being 16- and 17-year-old boys from the Hitler Youth brigades. [12] In the 1st Battalion over 65% were under 18 years old, and only 3% were over 25. [13] There were more than 10,000 boys in this division. [14]

The 12th SS Panzer Division of the Hitlerjugend was established later in World War II as Germany suffered more casualties, and more young people "volunteered", initially as reserves, but soon joined front line troops. These children saw extensive action and were among the fiercest and most effective German defenders in the Battle of Berlin. [15] In the battle of the Normandy beaches, the division suffered 60% casualties, most of whom were teenagers. [16]

These fearsome young boy soldiers acquired a formidable reputation for their violent and unforgiving practice, shooting prisoners, and were responsible for 64 deaths of British and Canadian soldiers between 7–16 June 1944. [17]

Other German involvement Edit

In late 1944, the People's Army was formed ("Volkssturm") in anticipation of an Allied invasion. Men of all ages, from 16–60 were conscripted into this army. [18]

Children as young as 8 were reported as having been captured by American troops, with boys aged 12 and under manning artillery units. Girls were also being placed in armed combat, operating anti-aircraft, or flak, guns alongside boys. Children commonly served in auxiliary roles in the Luftwaffe and were known as flakhelfer, from luftwaffenhelfer. [19]

Japan Edit

In anticipation of the possible Allied invasion of Japan, Japanese military authorities also trained young teenagers to fight the enemy with bamboo spears and other (often poorly) improvised weapons. Some Japanese children aged 17 years volunteered to be Kamikaze suicide pilots. [20]

The Japanese Imperial Army mobilized students aged 14–17 years in Okinawa island for the Battle of Okinawa. This mobilization was conducted by the ordinance of the Ministry of Army, not by law. The ordinances mobilized the student for a volunteer soldier for form's sake. However, in reality, the military authorities ordered schools to force almost all students to "volunteer" for soldiers. Sometimes they counterfeited the necessary documents of students. And student soldiers "Tekketsu Kinnotai" were killed such as in suicide attacks against a tank with bombs and in guerrilla operations.

After losing in the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945, the Japanese government enacted new laws in preparation for the decisive battles in the main islands. They were the laws that made it possible boys aged 15 or older and girls aged 17 or older to be drafted into the army for actual battles. Those who tried to escape the draft were punished by imprisonment.

The Japanese surrender, however, had forestalled the Allied invasion of the Japanese main islands, and therefore rendered these child soldiers unnecessary. [21] [22]

Jewish resistance Edit

During the Holocaust, Jews of all ages participated in the Jewish resistance simply to survive. Most Jewish Resistance took place after 1942 when the Nazi atrocities became clear. [23] Many Polish political leaders fled Warsaw at the onset of war, and those who remained were generally executed, jailed or forced to serve on the Jewish Council (Judenrat). [24]

Leaders of the Zionist Youth Movement who fled returned to Warsaw through a sense of responsibility as local leaders, for both youth in general and the wider Jewish community. [25] More than 100,000 young Jews participated in resistance youth movements, despite the Germans outlawing such activity. [26]

The Zionist groups' focus changed with the onset of war. Before the war, they focused on social and ideological development. Feeling a higher sense of responsibility to their people during the war, they set out to educate their people by setting up underground schools in ghettos. [27]

These leaders led a ghetto resistance, determining political and social action underground. [28] Youth of the Zionist resistance were part of the Armee Juive (Jewish Army) in France, created in 1942, an armed Jewish resistance in Western Europe. They took part in the 1944 uprisings against the Germans in Paris. [29]

Many members of the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. The participation of children in this armed resistance is usually regarded as nothing short of heroic. [30]

Soviet Union Edit

A number of child soldiers served in the Soviet Union's armed forces during World War II. In some cases, orphans also unofficially joined the Soviet Red Army. Such children were affectionately known as "sons of the regiment" (Russian: сын полка) and sometimes willingly performed military missions such as reconnaissance. Officially, the age of military conscription was lowered to 18 for those without secondary education and 19 for those with higher education. [31] In 1943 and 1944, 16–17 years old teenagers (born 1926-7), many from Central Asia, were drafted. These soldiers served in secondary units, not combat. Many were sent to the Far East, to replace units sent to the German front. After training and coming of age, these youth were sent to the front too. [32]

United Kingdom Edit

In the United Kingdom, boys of 17 were accepted into the Home Guard when it was formed in 1940 in preparation for a German invasion and as a "last line of defence". [33] On 27 September 1942, the minimum age was lowered to 16 provided there was parental consent. [34] They were nicknamed "Dad's Army". [35] The Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, called for men between the ages of 17 and 65 for Home Guard duty, so it was voluntarily undertaken by those of the younger age. Initially a rag-tag militia, the Home Guard and its young volunteers became well-equipped and well-trained. More than 1,200 Home Guard men died from German bombings. [36]

United States Edit

In World War II, the US only allowed men and women 18 years or older to be drafted or enlisted into the armed forces, although 17-year-olds were allowed to enlist with parental consent, and women were not allowed in armed conflict. [37] Some successfully lied about their age. The youngest member of the United States military was 12-year-old Calvin Graham. He lied about his age when he enlisted in the US Navy, and his real age was not known until after he was wounded. [38]

Poland Edit

From 1939, Polish youth created multiple resistance organisations. Children also joined military organisations despite the age limit, where they acted as liaison or distributor. At the end of the war in extreme situations also acted in Operation Tempest or Warsaw Uprising. In November 1942 were put in place age ranges: school of military support aged 12 to 15 years same school and acting in Minor sabotage, Operation N, liaison office and reconnaissance aged 16 to 18 years older had military training and joined Home Army. [39] There were only few well known children aged below 14 who took part in military fights.

The legality of the use of children in armed conflicts, as soldiers or in other capacities, has changed significantly in the last century. During both world wars, the legal framework was under-developed. Following World War I, in 1924 the League of Nations adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child. [40] Despite this attempt to protect children's rights, stating they must be "protected against every form of exploitation," [41] the rise of fascism that led to the start of World War II left millions of children again unprotected – gassed, killed or orphaned. [42]

Definition of a child Edit

The lack of legal protection for children in times of war, which allows for their exploitation, can be linked to the lack of a universally recognised definition of a child during World War II.

Prior to the creation of the United Nations during World War II, protection of child welfare was predominantly embodied in the laws of war, jus in bello. [43] These laws sought to outlaw war. [44]

In relation to protecting the rights of children involved in conflict, however, this concept failed to address the concept of a child-soldier at the time of World War II.

Furthermore, there was essentially no criminal culpability placed on the child where a breach of jus in bello occurred. [45] No legal limits excluded children being involved in armed conflicts, nor was there any definition of what a child was in relation to their ability to be involved in conflicts.

Changes since World War II Edit

The introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child in 1989 was the first time that any formal commitment was entered into that specified, protected and realised the human rights of a child. [46] This Convention sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.

Currently, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) defines a child soldier as "any child – boy or girl – under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity". [47] This age limit of 18 is relatively new, only introduced in 2002 under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Prior to 2002, the 1949 Geneva Convention, the 1977 Additional Protocols, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, all set 15 as the minimum age to participate in armed conflict. [48]

It is a contentious issue whether children should be able to be prosecuted for committing war crimes. [49]

Following the creation of the United Nations in 1945, and subsequent international conventions, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, child rights have been notably asserted and protected. [50] Immediately following World War II, children involved in armed conflict were not able to be prosecuted, as the legislative instruments did not exist to do so. Currently, international law does not prohibit children in being prosecuted for war crimes they committed, although article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child does limit the punishment a child can receive. This includes "neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age". [51]

Under Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was adopted in 1998, and came into force in 2002, "Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities" is a war crime. [52]

Under the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or armed groups, those children accused of war crimes, should primarily be treated as victims and treated in accordance with international law under restorative justice, rehabilitation that is consistent child protection treaties and principles. [53]

There were some cases from World War II, where children were prosecuted of war crimes for actions undertaken during the war. Two 15-year-old ex-Hitler Youth were convicted of violating laws of war, by being party to a shooting of a prisoner of war. The youths' age was a mitigating factor in their sentencing. [54]

Why Did Germany Keep Fighting World War Two After 1942? - History

World War II in Europe began when Hitler's Nazi Germany attacked Poland. Germany had allies such as Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. These European countries were part of the Axis Powers.

The countries that fought against Germany and the Axis Powers in Europe were called the Allied Powers. The main Allied Powers in Europe were Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France. Later the United States would help in defeating Hitler.

When Germany lost World War I they were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty not only took land from Germany, but required that they pay huge amounts of money in reparations to countries they had fought. As a result, the German economy did very poorly. The citizens of Germany were not only humiliated that they had lost World War I, but they were also poor and struggling. It was during this time that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came into power. Hitler promised he would bring Germany back to power.

Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Soon he had made himself dictator. Hitler said the country needed more land or "living space". First Hitler took over the country of Austria. Next, he took part of Czechoslovakia. The other European countries didn't want war, so they didn't do anything. Finally, when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the other countries knew he would not stop. France and Great Britain declared war on Germany and World War II had begun.

Prior to invading Poland, Germany had made a deal with the Soviet Union. After Poland was defeated, the country was divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union. Even though France and Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, there wasn't a lot of fighting at first.

It was in April of 1940 when Germany went on the attack again. On April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Soon after that, they invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. On June 22, 1940 Germany signed an agreement that gave them control of the Northern half of France.

Up until this point in the war, the Soviet Union had been allied with Germany. However, on June 22, 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet Union was on the side of the Allies.

The United States Enters the War

The United States had stayed neutral during the war. They tried to help out the Allies, but did not want to enter the fighting. However, on December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the US at Pearl Harbor. The US became a major power within the Allies Alliance.

  1. Eastern or Russian Front
  2. Mediterranean Front and Africa
  3. Western Front (France and Great Britain)

The Allies Start to Fight Back

In 1942 and 1943 the Allies began to fight back. The British Air Force began to bomb Germany, taking the war to German soil. The Allies also took control of northern Africa and then launched an attack on Italy forcing southern Italy to surrender. At the same time, the Russians defeated the German army on the Eastern Front and started to push them back towards Germany.

End of World War II in Europe

On June 6, 1944 the Allies attacked the Germans on the Western Front. This day is often called D-Day or the Invasion of Normandy. The Allies defeated the Germans and pushed them out of France. Germany then counterattacked and a great battle, called the Battle of the Bulge, was fought. Hundreds of thousands of US troops held the Germans back and the German army was finally defeated.

On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the Western Allies. The next day the Allies celebrated victory. May 8th is called V-E day or "Victory in Europe" day.

Fighting World War Two Through Diplomacy

THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.

History is full of examples of leaders joining together to meet common goals. But rarely have two leaders worked together with such friendship and cooperation as American President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The two men had much in common. They both were born to wealthy families and were active in politics for many years. Both men loved the sea and the navy, history and nature.

Roosevelt and Churchill first met when they were lower-level officials in World War One. But neither man remembered much about that meeting. However, as they worked together during the Second World War, they came to like and trust each other.

Roosevelt and Churchill exchanged more than one thousand seven hundred letters and messages during five and a half years. They met many times, at large national gatherings and in private talks. But the closeness of their friendship might be seen best in a story told by one of Roosevelt's close advisors, Harry Hopkins.

Hopkins remembered how Churchill was visiting Roosevelt at the White House one day. Roosevelt went into Churchill's room in the morning to say hello. But the president was shocked to see Churchill coming from the washing room with no clothes at all.

Roosevelt immediately apologized to the British leader for seeing him naked. But Churchill reportedly said: "The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States." And then both men laughed.

The United States and Great Britain were only two of several nations that joined together in the war to resist Hitler and his allies. In January, 1942, twenty-six of these nations signed an agreement promising to fight for peace, religious freedom, human rights, and justice.

The three major Allies, however, were the most important for the war effort: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Washington and London did not always agree. For example, they disagreed about when to attack Hitler in western Europe. And Churchill resisted Roosevelt's suggestions that Britain give up some of its colonies. But in general, the friendship between Roosevelt and Churchill, and between the United States and Britain, led the two nations to cooperate closely.

This was not true with the Soviet Union. Moscow did not share the same history or political system as Washington or London. And it had its own interests to protect along its borders and in other areas.

Relations between the Soviet Union and the western Allies were mixed. On the one hand, Hitler's invasion deep into the Soviet Union had forced Stalin and other Soviet leaders to make victory their top goal.

On the other hand, shadows of future problems already could be seen. The Soviet Union was making clear its desire to keep political control over Poland. And it was supporting communist fighters in Yugoslavia and Greece.

These differences were not discussed much as the foreign ministers of the three nations gathered in Moscow in 1943. Instead, the ministers reached several general agreements, including a plan to establish a new organization called the United Nations.

Finally, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met together for the first time. They met in Tehran in late 1943 mainly to discuss the military situation. However, the three leaders also considered such political questions as the future of Germany, eastern Europe, east Asia, and future international organizations.

Later, the Allies made further plans for the new United Nations organization. They arranged for new international economic organizations -- the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And the Allies agreed to divide Germany into different parts after the war for a temporary period. The Soviet Union would occupy the eastern part while Britain, France, and the United States would occupy the western part.

Washington, London, and Moscow were united during the early years of the war because of military need. They knew they must fight together to defeat the common enemy.

But this unity faded as Allied troops marched toward the German border. Roosevelt continued to call on the world to wait to plan the peace until the last bullet was fired. But Churchill, Stalin, and other leaders already were trying to shape the world that would follow the war. Now, differences between the Allies became more serious.

The most important question was Poland. Hitler's attack on Poland back in 1939 had started the war. Roosevelt and Churchill believed strongly that the Polish people should have the right to choose their own leaders after victory was won. Churchill supported a group of Polish resistance leaders who had an office in London.

But Stalin had other ideas. He demanded that Poland's border be changed to give more land to the Soviet Union. And he refused to help the Polish leaders in London. Instead, he supported a group of Polish communists and helped them establish a new government in Poland.

Churchill visited Stalin late in 1944. The two leaders joined with Roosevelt a few months later in Yalta. All agreed that free elections should be held quickly in Poland. And they traded ideas about the future of eastern Europe, China, and other areas of the world.

Roosevelt was in good spirits when he reported to the Congress after his return. "I come home from the conference with a firm belief that we have made a good start on the road to a world of peace," he said. "The peace cannot be a completely perfect system, at first. But it can be a peace based on the idea of freedom."

Churchill had the same high hopes. "Marshall Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honorable friendship," he told the British parliament after the conference. "I also know that their word is honest."

Roosevelt and Churchill were wrong. In the months after the Yalta conference, relations between Moscow and the western democracies grew steadily worse.

The Soviet Union moved to seize control of eastern Europe. Stalin began making strong speeches charging that Washington and London were holding secret peace negotiations with Germany. And the Soviet Union refused to discuss ways to bring democracy to Poland.

"I have always held the brave Russian people in high honor," Churchill wrote later. "But their shadow darkened the picture after the war. Britain and America had gone to war not just to defend the smaller countries, but also to fight for individual rights and freedoms.

"But," said Churchill, "the Soviet Union had other goals. Her hold tightened on eastern Europe after the Soviet Army gained control. After the long suffering and efforts of World War Two," Churchill said, "it seemed that half of Europe had just exchanged one dictator for another."

Churchill and Roosevelt agreed in secret letters that they must try to oppose the Soviet effort. But before they could act, Roosevelt died. And the world would live through a new war -- the cold war -- in the years to follow.

Roosevelt's death also ended the deep personal friendship between himself and Winston Churchill. The British leader wrote later about the day he heard the news of the death of his close friend in the White House.

"I felt as if I had been struck with a physical blow," Churchill wrote. "My relations with this shining man had played so large a part in the long, terrible years we had worked together. Now they had come to an end. And I was overpowered by a sense of deep and permanent loss "

The free world joined Churchill in mourning the loss of so strong a leader as Franklin Roosevelt. But it could not weep for long. War was giving way to peace. A new world was forming. And as we will see in our future programs, it was a world that few people expected.

You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators were Harry Monroe and Jim Tedder. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.

Why Did Germany Keep Fighting World War Two After 1942? - History

World War II affected nearly every aspect of life in the United States, and America’s racial relationships were not immune. African Americans, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Jews, and Japanese Americans were profoundly impacted.

In early 1941, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the largest black trade union in the nation, made headlines by threatening President Roosevelt with a march on Washington, D.C. In this “crisis of democracy,” Randolph said, defense industries refused to hire African Americans and the armed forces remained segregated. In exchange for Randolph calling off the march, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, banning racial and religious discrimination in defense industries and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to monitor defense industry hiring practices. While the armed forces would remain segregated throughout the war, and the FEPC had limited influence, the order showed that the federal government could stand against discrimination. The black workforce in defense industries rose from 3 percent in 1942 to 9 percent in 1945.

More than one million African Americans fought in the war. Most blacks served in segregated, non-combat units led by white officers. Some gains were made, however. The number of black officers increased from 5 in 1940 to over 7,000 in 1945. The all-black pilot squadrons, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, completed more than 1,500 missions, escorted heavy bombers into Germany, and earned several hundred merits and medals. Many bomber crews specifically requested the “Red Tail Angels” as escorts. And near the end of the war, the army and navy began integrating some of its platoons and facilities, before, in 1948, the U.S. government finally ordered the full integration of its armed forces.

The Tuskegee Airmen stand at attention as Major James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross, one of the first graduates of the Tuskegee cadets. The photographs shows the pride and poise of the Tuskegee Airmen, who continued a tradition of African Americans honorably serving a country that still considered them second-class citizens. Photograph, 1941. Wikimedia.

While black Americans served in the armed forces (though they were segregated), on the home front they became riveters and welders, rationed food and gasoline, and bought victory bonds. But many black Americans saw the war as an opportunity not only to serve their country but to improve it. The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading black newspaper, spearheaded the “Double V” campaign. It called on African Americans to fight two wars: the war against Nazism and Fascism abroad and the war against racial inequality at home. To achieve victory, to achieve “real democracy,” the Courier encouraged its readers to enlist in the armed forces, volunteer on the home front, and fight against racial segregation and discrimination.

During the war, membership in the NAACP jumped tenfold, from 50,000 to 500,000. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was formed in 1942 and spearheaded the method of nonviolent direct action to achieve desegregation. Between 1940 and 1950, some 1.5 million southern blacks, the largest number than any other decade since the beginning of the Great Migration, also indirectly demonstrated their opposition to racism and violence by migrating out of the Jim Crow South to the North. But transitions were not easy. Racial tensions erupted in 1943 in a series of riots in cities such as Mobile, Beaumont, and Harlem. The bloodiest race riot occurred in Detroit and resulted in the death of 25 blacks and 9 whites. Still, the war ignited in African Americans an urgency for equality that they would carry with them into the subsequent years.

Many Americans had to navigate American prejudice, and America’s entry into the war left foreign nationals from the belligerent nations in a precarious position. The Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted numbers on suspicions of disloyalty for detainment, hearings, and possible internment under the Alien Enemy Act. Those who received an order for internment were sent to government camps secured by barbed wire and armed guards. Such internmentss were supposed to be for cause. Then, on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal any persons from designated “exclusion zones”—which ultimately covered nearly a third of the country—at the discretion of military commanders. 30,000 Japanese Americans fought for the United States in World War II, but wartime anti-Japanese sentiment reinforced historical prejudices and, under the order, persons of Japanese descent, both immigrants and American citizens, were detained and placed under the custody of the War Relocation Authority, the civil agency that supervised their relocation to internment camps. They lost their homes and jobs. The policy indiscriminately targeted Japanese-descended populations. Individuals did not receive individual review prior to their internment. This policy of mass exclusion and detention affected over 110,000 individuals. 70,000 were American citizens.

In its 1982 report, Personal Justice Denied, the congressionally appointed Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded that “the broad historical causes” shaping the relocation program were “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Although the exclusion orders were found to have been constitutionally permissible under the vagaries of national security, they were later judged, even by the military and judicial leaders of the time, to have been a grave injustice against persons of Japanese descent. In 1988, President Reagan signed a law that formally apologized for internment and provided reparations to surviving internees.

But if actions taken during war would later prove repugnant, so too could inaction. As the Allies pushed into Germany and Poland, they uncovered the full extent of Hitler’s genocidal atrocities. The Allies liberated massive camp systems set up for the imprisonment, forced labor, and extermination of all those deemed racially, ideologically, or biologically “unfit” by Nazi Germany. But the Holocaust—the systematic murder of 11 million civilians, including 6 Jews—had been underway for years. How had America responded?

This photograph became one of the most well-known images from WWII. Originally from Jürgen Stroop’s May 1943 report to Heinrich Himmler, it circulated throughout Europe and America as an image of the Nazi Party’s brutality. The original German caption read: “Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs”. Wikimedia.

Initially, American officials expressed little official concern for Nazi persecutions. At the first signs of trouble in the 1930s, the State Department and most U.S. embassies did realtively little to aid European Jews. Roosevelt publically spoke out against the persecution, and even withdrew the U.S. ambassador to Germany after Kristallnacht. He pushed for the 1938 Evian Conference in France in which international leaders discussed the Jewish refugee problem and worked to expand Jewish immigration quotas by tens of thousands of people per year. But the conference came to nothing and the United States turned away countless Jewish refugees who requested asylum in the United States.

In 1939, the German ship St. Louis carried over 900 Jewish refugees. They could not find a country that would take them. The passengers could not receive visas under the United States’ quota system. A State Department wire to one passenger read that all must “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.” The ship cabled the president for special privilege, but the president said nothing. The ship was forced to return back to Europe. Hundreds of the St. Louis’s passengers would perish in the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism still permeated the United States. Even if Roosevelt wanted to do more—it’s difficult to trace his own thoughts and personal views—he judged the political price for increasing immigration quotas as too high. In 1938 and 1939 the U.S. Congress debated the Wagner-Rogers Bill, an act to allow 20,000 German-Jewish children into the United States. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt endorsed the measure but the president remained publicly silent. The bill was opposed by roughly two-thirds of the American public and was defeated. Historians speculate that Roosevelt, anxious to protect the New Deal and his rearmament programs, was unwilling to expend political capital to protect foreign groups that the American public had little interest in protecting.

Knowledge of the full extent of the Holocaust was slow in coming. When the war began, American officials, including Roosevelt, doubted initial reports of industrial death camps. But even when they conceded their existence, officials pointed to their genuinely limited options. The most plausible response was for the U.S. military was to bomb either the camps or the railroads leading to them, but those options were rejected by military and civilian officials who argued that it would do little to stop the deportations, would distract from the war effort, and could cause casualties among concentration camp prisoners. Whether bombing would have saved lives remains a hotly debated question.

Late in the war, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, himself born into a wealthy New York Jewish family, pushed through major changes in American policy. In 1944, he formed the War Refugees Board (WRB) and became a passionate advocate for Jewish refugees. The efforts of the WPB saved perhaps 200,000 Jews and 20,000 others. Morgenthau also convinced Roosevelt to issue a public statement condemning the Nazi’s persecution. But it was already 1944, and such policies were far too little, far too late.

The Boy Who Became a World War II Veteran at 13 Years Old

With powerful engines, extensive firepower and heavy armor, the newly christened battleship USS South Dakota steamed out of Philadelphia in August of 1942 spoiling for a fight. The crew was made up of “green boys”—new recruits who enlisted after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor—who had no qualms about either their destination or the action they were likely to see. Brash and confident, the crew couldn’t get through the Panama Canal fast enough, and their captain, Thomas Gatch, made no secret of the grudge he bore against the Japanese. “No ship more eager to fight ever entered the Pacific,” one naval historian wrote.

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Video: Archival Footage of D-Day

In less than four months, the South Dakota would limp back to port in New York for repairs to extensive damage suffered in some of World War II’s most ferocious battles at sea. The ship would become one of the most decorated warships in U.S. Navy history and acquire a new moniker to reflect the secrets it carried. The Japanese, it turned out, were convinced the vessel had been destroyed at sea, and the Navy was only too happy to keep the mystery alive—stripping the South Dakota of identifying markings and avoiding any mention of it in communications and even sailors’ diaries. When newspapers later reported on the ship’s remarkable accomplishments in the Pacific Theater, they referred to it simply as “Battleship X.”

Calvin Graham, the USS South Dakota‘s 12-year-old gunner, in 1942. Photo: Wikipedia

That the vessel was not resting at the bottom of the Pacific was just one of the secrets Battleship X carried through day after day of hellish war at sea. Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation’s youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, the fresh-faced seaman who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12 years old.

Graham was just 11 and in the sixth grade in Crockett, Texas, when he hatched his plan to lie about his age and join the Navy. One of seven children living at home with an abusive stepfather, he and an older brother moved into a cheap rooming house, and Calvin supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams on weekends and after school. Even though he moved out, his mother would occasionally visit—sometimes to simply sign his report cards at the end of a semester.  The country was at war, however, and being around newspapers afforded the boy the opportunity to keep up on events overseas.

“I didn’t like Hitler to start with,” Graham later told a reporter. When he learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to fight. “In those days, you could join up at 16 with your parents’ consent, but they preferred 17,” Graham later said. But he had no intention of waiting five more years. He began to shave at age 11, hoping it would somehow make him look older when he met with military recruiters.  Then he lined up with some buddies (who forged his mother’s signature and stole a notary stamp from a local hotel) and waited to enlist.

At 5-foot-2 and just 125 pounds, Graham dressed in an older brother’s clothes and fedora and practiced “talking deep.” What worried him most was not that an enlistment officer would spot the forged signature. It was the dentist who would peer into the mouths of potential recruits. “I knew he’d know how young I was by my teeth,” Graham recalled. He lined up behind a couple of guys he knew who were already 14 or 15, and “when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17.”  At last, Graham played his ace, telling the dentist that he knew for a fact that the boys in front of him weren’t 17 yet, and the dentist had let them through. “Finally,” Graham recalled, “he said he didn’t have time to mess with me and he let me go.” Graham maintained that the Navy knew he and the others on line that day were underage, “but we were losing the war then, so they took six of us.”

It wasn’t uncommon for boys to lie about their age in order to serve. Ray Jackson, who joined the Marines at 16 during World War II, founded the group Veterans of Underage Military Service in 1991, and it listed more than 1,200 active members, including 26 women.  “Some of these guys came from large families and there wasn’t enough food to go around, and this was a way out,” Jackson told a reporter. “Others just had family problems and wanted to get away.”

Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training.  There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs.

Just months after her christening in 1942, the USS South Dakota was attacked relentlessly in the Pacific. Photo: Wikipedia

By the time the USS South Dakota made it to the Pacific, it had become part of a task force alongside the legendary carrier USS Enterprise (the “Big E”). By early October 1942, the two ships, along with their escorting cruisers and destroyers, raced to the South Pacific to engage in the fierce fighting in the battle for Guadalcanal. After they reached the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, the Japanese quickly set their sights on the carrier and launched an air attack that easily penetrated the Enterprise’s own air patrol. The carrier USS Hornet was repeatedly torpedoed and sank off Santa Cruz, but the South Dakota managed to protect Enterprise, destroying 26 enemy planes with a barrage from its antiaircraft guns.

Standing on the bridge, Captain Gatch watched as a 500-pound bomb struck the South Dakota’s main gun turret. The explosion injured 50 men, including the skipper, and killed one. The ship’s armor was so thick, many of the crew were unaware they’d been hit.  But word quickly spread that Gatch had been knocked unconscious. Quick-thinking quartermasters managed to save the captain’s life—his jugular vein had been severed, and the ligaments in his arms suffered permanent damage—but some onboard were aghast that he didn’t hit the deck when he saw the bomb coming. “I consider it beneath the dignity of a captain of an American battleship to flop for a Japanese bomb,” Gatch later said.

The ship’s young crew continued to fire at anything in the air, including American bombers that were low on fuel and trying to land on the Enterprise. The South Dakota was quickly getting a reputation for being wild-eyed and quick to shoot, and Navy pilots were warned not to fly anywhere near it. The South Dakota was fully repaired at Pearl Harbor, and Captain Gatch returned to his ship, wearing a sling and bandages. Seaman Graham quietly became a teenager, turning 13 on November 6, just as Japanese naval forces began shelling an American airfield on Guadalcanal Island. Steaming south with the Enterprise, Task Force 64, with the South Dakota and another battleship, the USS Washington, took four American destroyers on a night search for the enemy near Savo Island. There, on November 14, Japanese ships opened fire, sinking or heavily damaging the American destroyers in a four day engagement that became known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Later that evening the South Dakota encountered eight Japanese destroyers with deadly accurate 16-inch guns, the South Dakota set fire to three of them. “They never knew what sank ‘em,” Gatch would recall. One Japanese ship set its searchlights on the South Dakota, and the ship took 42 enemy hits, temporarily losing power. Graham was manning his gun when shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth another hit knocked him down, and he fell through three stories of superstructure. Still, the 13 year-old made it to his feet, dazed and bleeding, and helped pull other crew members to safety while others were thrown by the force of the explosions, their bodies aflame, into the Pacific.

“I took belts off the dead and made tourniquets for the living and gave them cigarettes and encouraged them all night,” Graham later said.  ”It was a long night. It aged me.” The shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth, and he had flash burns from the hot guns, but he was “fixed up with salve and a coupla stitches,” he recalled. “I didn’t do any complaining because half the ship was dead.  It was a while before they worked on my mouth.” In fact, the ship had casualties of 38 men killed and 60 wounded.

Regaining power, and after afflicting heavy damage to the Japanese ships, the South Dakota rapidly disappeared in the smoke. Captain Gatch would later remark of his “green” men, “Not one of the ship’s company flinched from his post or showed the least disaffection.” With the Japanese Imperial Navy under the impression that it had sunk the South Dakota, the legend of Battleship X was born.

After the Japanese Imperial Navy falsely believed it had sunk the South Dakota in November, 1942, the American vessel became known as “Battleship X.” Photo: Wikimedia

In mid-December, the damaged ship returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for major repairs, where Gatch and his crew were profiled for their heroic deeds in the Pacific. Calvin Graham received a Bronze Star for distinguishing himself in combat, as well as a Purple Heart for his injuries. But he couldn’t bask in glory with his fellow crewmen while their ship was being repaired. Graham’s mother, reportedly having recognized her son in newsreel footage, wrote the Navy, revealing the gunner’s true age.

Graham returned to Texas and was thrown in a brig at Corpus Christi, Texas, for almost three months.

Battleship X returned to the Pacific and continued to shoot Japanese planes out of the sky. Graham, meanwhile, managed to get a message out to his sister Pearl, who complained to the newspapers that the Navy was mistreating the “Baby Vet.” The Navy eventually ordered Graham’s release, but not before stripping him of his medals for lying about his age and revoking his disability benefits. He was simply tossed from jail with a suit and a few dollars in his pocket—and no honorable discharge.

Back in Houston, though, he was treated as a celebrity. Reporters were eager to write his story, and when the war film Bombadier premiered at a local theater, the film’s star, Pat O’Brien, invited Graham to the stage to be saluted by the audience. The attention quickly faded. At age 13, Graham tried to return to school, but he couldn’t keep pace with students his age and quickly dropped out. He married at age 14, became a father the following year, and found work as a welder in a Houston shipyard. Neither his job nor his marriage lasted long. At 17 years old and divorced, and with no service record, Graham was about to be drafted when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He soon broke his back in a fall, for which he received a 20 percent service-connected disability. The only work he could find after that was selling magazine subscriptions.

When President Jimmy Carter was elected, in 1976, Graham began writing letters, hoping that Carter, “an old Navy man,” might be sympathetic. All Graham had wanted was an honorable discharge so he could get help with his medical and dental expenses. “I had already given up fighting” for the discharge, Graham said at the time. “But then they came along with this discharge program for deserters. I know they had their reasons for doing what they did, but I figure I damn sure deserved more than they did.”

In 1977, Texas Senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower introduced a bill to give Graham his discharge, and in 1978, Carter announced that it had been approved and that Graham’s medals would be restored, with the exception of the Purple Heart.  Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation approving disability benefits for Graham.

Forty years ago, on August 6 and 9, 1945, American B-29s dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing at least 110,000 and possibly 250,000 Japanese and speeding that nation’s surrender. During four years of bitter fighting, World War II had become for the United States virtually total war, in which morality had slowly been redefined to allow the intentional bombing of civilians.

Ever since, however, use of these atomic weapons has raised troubling questions about American ethics during the war. Yet lost in the concern is a related question: Why didn’t the United States also initiate gas warfare? Did an older sense of morality, rooted in the decades before Pearl Harbor, bar this form of war even as other moral constraints eroded?

During World War II, international law did not actually bar the United States from using gas warfare—although America had signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing gas, the Senate had never ratified it. Yet every peacetime President from Warren G. Harding to Franklin D. Roosevelt had defined gas as immoral and pledged to abide by the agreement. The cruel gas deaths of World War I, painfully etched in memory, constituted a powerful ethical deterrent. In a secret memo, written soon after Pearl Harbor, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, a Tennessee Democrat and proud Wilsonian, urged the administration to declare unilaterally that it would continue to observe this prohibition. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, a Chicago Republican, readily agreed: “The Navy is against the use [of gas] in wartime.”

But Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, the leading Republican in the bipartisan war cabinet, opposed Hull’s proposal. Any public statement, Stimson contended, might provoke a domestic debate on moral and political issues that would delay military production of gas and lead Germany and Japan to view America as weak. Stressing that these enemies, as well as Italy, had repeatedly violated treaties, and claiming that Italy had used gas in Ethiopia and that Japan had done so in China, Stimson concluded that “the only deterrent is fear of our retaliation. I strongly believe that our most effective weapon on this subject at the present time is to keep our mouths tight shut.”

Events soon undercut this cautious strategy of silence. In May 1942 Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearing German gas warfare against Russia, publicly warned Adolf Hitler that Britain would retaliate with gas on German cities. The next month President Roosevelt, citing new accusations against Japan, issued a similar warning: “If Japan persists in this inhuman form of warfare against China or against any other of the United Nations, such action will be regarded by this Government as though taken against the United States, and retaliation in kind and in full measure will be meted out.”

For Churchill, an ardent advocate of poison gas in World War I and never committed to the subsequent moral code against it, and for Roosevelt, sincerely committed to that code, the warnings were designed to deter enemies from launching gas warfare and thus making retaliation necessary. Roosevelt continued to receive reports of scattered incidents of Japanese gas warfare against China, but he and his advisers correctly interpreted these abuses as decisions made by local commanders, not as a statement of a new Japanese policy. Had the President been seeking a pretext to retaliate with gas, he might have seized upon these reports. But his caution and his moral inclinations reinforced each other, and he preferred instead to issue warnings and hope for the best.

In June 1943, using a State Department draft, Roosevelt sharply reaffirmed United States policy on gas warfare: “Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind. This country has not used them, and I hope we never will be compelled to use them. I state categorically that we shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies.” Such a ringing statement of morality, even as the barbarities of war chipped away at other parts of the international military code, made it unlikely that FDR would yield easily to entreaty or to the claim of exigency.

His known opposition to initiating gas warfare blocked some American military planners from seriously considering it and thus deterred the very bureaucratic actions that might have pressed him to reconsider his commitment. He also received indirect support from the Navy and Army Air Force. Top Navy officials had concluded that gas should not be used against civilian populations and that it was not especially effective against military targets. “Hit for hit and pound for pound,” said Adm. Ernest King, chief of naval operations, “no service chemical is considered to offer as great effectiveness as high explosive.” Air Force leaders, committed to aerial bombing, had reached a similar conclusion.

Even so, the budget and total personnel of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) soared. Held to an average annual appropriation of $1.5 million and to about five hundred Army personnel through the mid-thirties, in 1942 the CWS received one billion dollars and had more than sixty thousand employees. Its tasks included preparing for gas and bacteriological warfare, as well as producing incendiaries for bombing, flamethrowers, and other devices.

As the war continued, the Chemical Warfare Service chafed under FDR’s imposed restraints. In mid-December 1943, after the bloody Pacific Battle of Tarawa, which had cost the United States more than thirty-four hundred casualties in four days, Maj. Gen. William N. Porter, chief of the Chemical Warfare Service, pleaded with Army superiors to start using gas. In view of American air superiority, he argued, there would be no danger of Japanese reprisals. “We have an overwhelming advantage in the use of gas. Properly used gas could shorten the war in the Pacific and prevent loss of many American lives.”

He could find some popular support for his view. “We Should Gas Japan,” declared the New York Daily News , and the Washington Times Herald asserted, “We Should Have Used Gas at Tarawa” because “You Can Cook ’Em Better with Gas.” But such opinion was in the minority about 75 percent of Americans still opposed initiating gas weapons.

Porter’s pleading proved unsuccessful within the Army—primarily for military, not moral, reasons. Maj. Gen. Thomas T. Handy, of the Army’s Operations Division, explained that the use of gas against Japan might provoke Germany “to gas in retaliation.” The war was, Handy argued, a two-theater struggle likely advantages, no matter how attractive in the Pacific, would be outweighed by the likely disadvantages in Europe, the primary theater. “The difficulties inherent in amphibious operations [in the forthcoming D-day landing] against the continent are tremendous and no action should be initiated which would provide the Germans with an excuse for using gas as a defensive weapon against such operations.”

Shortly before the D-day invasion the British military chiefs began worrying that the decision by Gen. Dwight D. Elsenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, to use white phosphorus would violate the 1925 Geneva Protocol—which Britain, unlike the United States, was bound by—and might unleash German retaliatory gas attacks. “It is difficult,” the Ministry of Defense warned, “to draw a firm line between the use of white phosphorus for smoke and as an incendiary (which is legal) and its use primarily against personnel (which may be illegal).” Elsenhower refused to back down. By the time the issue percolated up to Churchill on June 21, the early assault on Normandy was over, and apparently the prime minister decided against appealing the matter to Roosevelt.

After the war an Army chemical-warfare expert concluded that the use of gas by Germany could have delayed the Allied cross-Channel attack by six months. “Such a delay,” he noted, “could have given the Germans sufficient time to complete the new V-weapons, which would have made the Allies’ task all the harder and England’s long range bombardment considerably worse.”

About a week after D-day, Germany launched a massive V-I assault upon Britain, killing twenty-seven hundred people, injuring ten thousand, and damaging the homes of more than two hundred thousand. Eager to punish Germany and hoping to deter future rocket attacks, Prime Minister Churchill wanted to “drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany [with gas] in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention.” He informed his military advisers: “It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint from the moralists or the Church. On the other hand, in the last war the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course. It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts for women.”

Recognizing that he was threatening to cross what many defined as a moral threshold, Churchill indicated that he would use gas only if “it [is] life or death for us, or [if] it would shorten the war by a year.”

His directive to military advisers was blunt and chilling: “I want a cold-blooded calculation made as to how it would pay us to use poison gas. … I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here now there.”

British military advisers soon dashed his hopes. They argued that gas warfare would divert aircraft from the more effective strategy of bombing Germany’s industries and cities. Britain’s gas attacks would not be decisive, they feared, and Germany would probably retaliate with devastating effect against England and might also use gas elsewhere in Europe and possibly against Allied prisoners of war.

Churchill complained to an associate that he was “not at all convinced by this negative report,” but he reluctantly yielded. “Clearly I cannot make head against the parsons and the warriors at the same time,” he lamented privately.

His advisers had also considered bacteriological warfare —probably anthrax, code-named “N.” It “is the only Allied biological agent,” the Joint Planning Staff, advisers to the British military chiefs, reported, “which could probably make a material change in the war situation before the end of 1945. There are indications which lack final scientific proof, that the 4-lb. bomb charged with 'N,’ used on a large scale from aircraft might have a major effect on the course of the war.” The Joint Planning Staff concluded that Britain, dependent on the United States for “N,” would still lack adequate stocks of it well into 1945. Had supplies been ample, however, Churchill might have faced a tempting military prospect.

In the United States, a relatively powerless group, seeking to halt Hitler’s relentless gassing of Europe’s Jews as part of the “final solution,” urged Roosevelt to threaten Hitler with gas warfare if Germany did not stop its program. These petitions predictably failed. The Joint Chiefs, to whom the pleas were sent, concluded the matter was not in “their cognizance.” And Hitler never used gas against Allied armies, probably because he feared retaliation and recalled his own gassing of 1918.

Despite Roosevelt’s pledge against gas, the United States Army hoped in 1945 to initiate gas warfare against Japan. On several occasions Gen. George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff, wanted to use it in the Pacific. The first time, after the heavy casualties at Iwo Jima in February and March, Marshall proposed using the weapon on Okinawa before the invasion, then deemed likely to cost thousands of American casualties. Gas warfare, as Marshall later explained, would have pushed the inhabitants to a remote part of the island and kept the Japanese troops in gas masks for about a week, thus so weakening them that the invasion “could have been accomplished with little loss of life.” In recalling these plans, Marshall never mentioned that gas was inhumane. His implication seemed clear: The efforts to save American lives overrode the constraints of morality.

Why, then, wasn’t the gas used? Marshall later claimed that the chief reason was the opposition of the British, who feared that Germany, caught in the last weeks of war, might use the weapon in Europe. Marshall implied that Roosevelt might have repudiated his pledge and sanctioned America’s initiation of gas warfare. There are no records of any conversation with Roosevelt on this matter, however, and probably Britain’s fears sufficed to deter Marshall from raising the issue with FDR in the early spring of 1945.

With the defeat of Germany on May 8, such fear of retaliation in Europe evaporated. Accordingly Gen. Joseph Stilwell, the former commanding general of Army ground forces in China, recommended, only a few weeks after President Roosevelt’s death, that gas be used in the invasion of Japan. Disregarding Roosevelt’s repeated and adamant public statements, Stilwell said, “We are not bound in any way not to use it, and the stigma of using it on the civilian population can be avoided by restricting it to attack on military targets.”

At a special session on May 29 with Secretary of War Stimson, according to a recently declassified document, General Marshall pushed for gas “to cope with the … last ditch defense tactics of the suicidal Japanese.” Appalled by American casualties in the battles on the outlying islands, Marshall argued the case for gas warfare: “It did not need to be our newest and most potent—just drench them and sicken them so that the fight would be taken out of them—saturate an area, possibly with mustard. …”

He admitted that public opinion might be a problem but concluded that it could be dealt with. After all, he argued, gas was “no less inhumane than phosphorus and flame throwers and need not be used against dense populations or civilians—merely against these last pockets of resistance which had to be wiped out but had no other military significance.”

The issue did not dominate this May 29 meeting, however, for Stimson and Marshall were primarily concerned with the use of the atomic bomb. Marshall, while willing to violate the moral code against gas warfare, was reluctant to use the bomb against civilians. He recommended that it “might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that… we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave—telling the Japanese that we intended to destroy such centers.”

Just two days later, however, the Interim Committee, a high-level advisory group on the A-bomb, “agreed that the most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses.” This would be, in effect, terror bombing—with mass deaths designed to frighten the living into surrendering before they suffered a similar fate.

Untroubled by his defeat on the A-bomb, Marshall continued to argue against FDR’s pledge not to use gas. He soon found an ally in Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander in the Pacific, who could see “no reason why we should not use gas right now against Japan proper. Any kind of gas.” Unlike Marshall, MacArthur was not hesitant about killing civilians or using the most poisonous gases.

Marshall also received important support for gas warfare from Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who argued for reconsidering policy “in the face of the public pressure for the use of gas, which may develop as our casualties rise due to the Okinawa cave type of Japanese defense.” McCloy, a distinguished Wall Street attorney, seemed perfectly comfortable about redefining the ethics of war. In the crucible of World War II, morality had been substantially altered saving American lives and insulating the military from public criticism were McCloy’s main concerns.

At Marshall’s behest the Army’s Operations Division (OPD) in early June put together a paper offering both new and familiar rationales for using gas in the Pacific: It would save American lives, and the British no longer feared German retaliation. There was, however, a serious danger that Japan would retaliate against noncombatant populations, especially in China and in Manchuria and Korea, although such retaliation would be “only to a limited extent.” And the OPD acknowledged that the introduction of gas would erode moral restraints but concluded that this made no practical difference, since chemical and biological warfare in any future conflict would be directed against the United States “on the opening day.”

American public opinion, the OPD report optimistically concluded, easily could be shifted to accept gas warfare. “A program of education, stressing [that it is not worse than flamethrowers, phosphorus, or napalm] and that lives of … soldiers can be saved, will overcome this prejudice. Actually, there is considerable public demand to use gas,” the OPD emphasized. Support for gas warfare, near 40 percent according to public opinion polls, had been growing in the months since Iwo Jima.

By mid-1945, as Army planners knew, Japan had produced very little gas and, lacking air superiority, could not use it against American troops outside the main Japanese islands. While the United States had produced about 135,000 tons of chemical warfare agents, Germany about 70,000 tons, and Britain about 40,000 tons, Japan had only 7,500 tons. In brief, American production was 1,800 percent greater than Japan’s.

But if the Army viewed gas warfare as useful in softening Japan, the invasion plans did not hinge upon approval of gas warfare, and planners saw that the use of such a weapon could depend upon Allied agreement. Accordingly the OPD suggested that President Harry S. Truman discuss the issue with Joseph Stalin at Potsdam and then with Chiang Kai-shek.

In Washington, General Marshall sent the OPD report to the other military chiefs. There is no record of replies by Admiral King or by Gen. Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, chief of staff of the Army Air Forces. The Navy, in view of its faith in bombing and a blockade, had its own agenda for ending the war and was probably not supportive of Marshall’s plan.

Arnold had earlier rejected a gassing plan—”a quick knockout of Japan from the air by concentrating on sources of food,” partly by spraying mustard gas on rice-producing areas—on tactical rather than on moral or political grounds. As one of his aides had explained, “the effort to do a good job against food would be better expended against material objectives having earlier and certain impact.” Given limited resources, the Air Force preferred to continue its bombing of Japanese cities, which some Air Force generals thought might defeat Japan before the planned invasion in November.

Alone among the President’s top military advisers, Adm. William Leahy, the crusty, aged chief of staff to the Commander in Chief, opposed Marshall’s plan. And unlike many of the top brass, Leahy was not reluctant to raise fierce moral objections. Earlier he had opposed both gas and bacteriological warfare because, as he had told FDR in 1944, they “would violate every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war. It would be an attack on the noncombatant population of the enemy.” On June 20, 1945, replying sharply to Marshall, Leahy emphasized that Roosevelt had categorically barred first use of gas.

Apparently Marshall never brought his plans to Truman. The last important reference on the matter appears in an OPD briefing paper for the Potsdam Conference: “the advisability of changing the policy to permit the use of gas against the Japanese has been discussed informally by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Because the Allies might oppose such a reversal in policy], a decision to initiate use of gas must be taken on the highest level.”

If he had wanted to, could Truman have reversed Roosevelt’s public commitment? What tactics might he have successfully employed? He could have lied and claimed publicly that Japan had recently initiated gas warfare and that the United States was only retaliating. But such deceit could have backfired and would have been politically risky. As a top-secret Army report warned, “the probability that our decision to adopt gas warfare could be long hidden under the cloak of a framed incident is small.”

And despite the optimism of Army planners about public opinion, an open presidential admission of a policy reversal would also have been politically dangerous. The American people, though inured to the intentional killing of civilians by bombing, might still have protested against gas. For years it had been condemned as immoral, and throughout the war most nations—including Germany—had seemed to abide by that ethical code in combat.

By mid-1945 the injury to American prestige and power would not have been worth the military advantages of violating the accepted morality. Perhaps if a handful of respected advisers all had argued the necessity of a reversal, Truman might have changed policy. But not even Marshall argued for the necessity of gas warfare he only said it would be useful. Finally, it would have been difficult for Truman to justify a rejection of FDR’s public pledge. Whereas Roosevelt was an architect of the use of the atomic bomb, he was a powerful opponent of gas warfare. In each case FDR’s legacy, carried in part by the advisers he had bequeathed to his successor, narrowed the range in which the new President could make decisions. And in each case that legacy probably also fitted Truman’s own inclinations.

Yet any analysis of this question of what might have been is, to use FDR’s word, iffy . Had the Pacific war dragged on into the late autumn and winter, Truman might have been under growing pressure to use gas against the hated Japanese. The costly struggle was eroding American repugnance to gas, and future battles in Japan, with thousands of GI deaths, might well have led American citizens to push their government to use gas warfare. Under those pressures only a secure and powerful President like FDR, with a firm commitment against gas, might have chosen to resist. Truman, less secure and not wedded to that commitment, might have yielded more easily, especially after the atomic bombings. Truman later wrote, “The Atomic bomb … is far worse than gas or biological warfare because it affects the civilian population and murders them wholesale.”

And in his last years Truman kept on his bookshelf, next to volumes about the A-bomb decision, a copy of Hamlet , with Horatio’s speech in the last act underlined: