Thursday, April 1, 2010

April - a Fateful Month in the 20th Century

As today is April 1st, I found myself ruminating over the countless pranks (mostly unsuccessful) I engineered as a youngster on April Fool's Day; however, my thoughts soon drifted over to three events during the 20th century's greatest conflict that aided in crafting the direction of history, the results of which helped form the world as we know it today:
On April 1, 1945, American troops landed on the Island of Okinawa, just 300 - odd miles from the Japanese mainland, the ultimate goal being the use of Okinawa as a spring board for the planned invasion of Japan.
The battle lasted almost three months, extending well into June. The results were an indication as to what was to be expected were the Americans to invade the mainland. On Okinawa, the Americans suffered over 50,000 casualties, some 12,000 having been killed. The Japanese lost over 100,000 killed, not to mention the many thousands of civilians lost as well.
The Kamikaze sank some thirty of our ships and damaged about 3oo vessels.
In the opinion of many, if not most military historians, this horrific battle was the catalyst resulting in the decision to use the Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the only two atomic weapons ever used in anger.
On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 bombers took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet and headed toward Japan. The genius of then Colonel Jimmy Doolittle is still a tale to marvel at today - imagine these bombers on a carrier, each weighing some 31,000 pounds empty, lifting into the air from a heaving ship. No bomber was ever designed to do such a thing. Doolittle was not only a brilliant pilot - he had earned a doctorate in aeronautical engineering at M.I.T., and used his combination of bravery in battle and a wonderfully imaginative and highly developed intellect to stage such an event; for instance, he knew that each plane would have to take off just as the carrier would descend into a coming wave, in order to help boost these large planes into the air. He also had installed painted broomsticks on each plane to create the impression of machine guns bristling from all sides. Most brilliant, perhaps, was his order not to bomb the radio station in Tokyo so that the totally surprised and confused staff would broadcast warnings to the people about the totally unexpected raid, causing even more fright and chaos, which it did.
The raid caused little damage, but it caused great consternation among the Japanese militarists, which ultimately led to altering ensuing plans which ultimately led to the disaster for the Japanese forces at Midway later in the same year.
Finally, in April of 1943, President Roosevelt instructed the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, to "get Yamamoto," meaning that the Chief of the Combined Japanese fleet would be inspecting the island of Bougainville - it was known to the Americans as they had broken the Japanese naval code. The result: on April 18, a force of American P-38's intercepted Yamamoto's plane and shot it down, after having traveled some 400 miles. This was one of the most astounding military feats in the entire conflict. The man who had planned Pearl Harbor, and was one of Japan's most brilliant military leaders (and, as a young man, attended Harvard), had been assassinated, leaving the Japanese Empire without one of its most cherished and valued military minds.
Yes, April has been quite a month.
Incidentally, let us remember that President Roosevelt died on April 12 of 1945, never to be witness to the ultimate victory over the forces that threatened the entire world during those days.

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