Unsung heroes of WWII

Brian G Turner

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The sailors of the Merchant Navy who ran the U Boat gauntlet of Atlantic and Arctic convoys. They were not fighting men but they were subjected to harsh conditions and the horrors of war. My own uncle Frank survived being torpedoed twice in the Atlantic and the experience traumatised him for the rest of his life. The Merchant Navy kept Britain supplied, and the country could never have survived without their endeavour and sacrifice in those frigid waters.

Even Winston Churchill admitted that nothing scared him more than losing the war in the Atlantic.
 
The sailors of the Merchant Navy who ran the U Boat gauntlet of Atlantic and Arctic convoys. They were not fighting men but they were subjected to harsh conditions and the horrors of war. My own uncle Frank survived being torpedoed twice in the Atlantic and the experience traumatised him for the rest of his life. The Merchant Navy kept Britain supplied, and the country could never have survived without their endeavour and sacrifice in those frigid waters.

Even Winston Churchill admitted that nothing scared him more than losing the war in the Atlantic.
My wife's grandfather was an able seaman in the MN during the war, on the transatlantic convoys and in the Mediterranean. He was either sunk, or his ships were scuttled 5 times. He was reported as lost at sea on one occasion (my F.I.L has the letter) after being sunk by a U boat, only to be picked by a US Navy ship up after a week on the Atlantic in an open lifeboat. He was likewise severely traumatised for the remainder of his life.
 
I read this book a few years ago, and it was fascinating. I love these stories of little known operations that had a huge effect on the overall course of the war:


I was also interesting in this one, because it was closer to home - a lot of code-breaking in Australia actually happened in my hometown, and in fact just a few blocks away from where I was living at the time I read this one:

 
The sailors of the Merchant Navy who ran the U Boat gauntlet of Atlantic and Arctic convoys. They were not fighting men but they were subjected to harsh conditions and the horrors of war. My own uncle Frank survived being torpedoed twice in the Atlantic and the experience traumatised him for the rest of his life. The Merchant Navy kept Britain supplied, and the country could never have survived without their endeavour and sacrifice in those frigid waters.

Even Winston Churchill admitted that nothing scared him more than losing the war in the Atlantic.
My father went to sea as a Merchant Navy Officer Cadet navigator age 17 in 1942
 
The whole WW2 Burma front is often forgotten these days, but it was the scene of extremely fierce fighting, particularly at Kohima, where the British forces (including many Indian and Commonwealth troops) ultimately stopped and destroyed the Japanese army. Had the Japanese captured India, it would have been an absolute bloodbath.

One story that I'm surprised isn't better-known is that of Ursula Graham-Bower, an anthropologist who studied the jungle tribes of Burma prior to World War 2. When the Japanese invaded, she used her connections to obtain weapons for the locals, and helped train them into a very successful guerrilla force, which she often led into battle herself. Nobody has made a film about her, but the Americans produced a comic book based on her exploits - which, if they weren't true, would sound like the stuff of pulp fiction.

 
The sailors of the Merchant Navy who ran the U Boat gauntlet of Atlantic and Arctic convoys. They were not fighting men but they were subjected to harsh conditions and the horrors of war. My own uncle Frank survived being torpedoed twice in the Atlantic and the experience traumatised him for the rest of his life. The Merchant Navy kept Britain supplied, and the country could never have survived without their endeavour and sacrifice in those frigid waters.

Even Winston Churchill admitted that nothing scared him more than losing the war in the Atlantic.
My great uncle was in the arctic convoys
 
The Merchant Navy suffered a higher casualty rate than any other service in WW2. A quick Google shows it was over 25%, which is an incredibly high amount. Months spent at sea - often in freezing conditions - never knowing when it was going to be your turn, and absolutely no chance of fighting back or doing anything to save yourself.
 
There's a certain type of bravery that I find almost incomprehensible, the sort of bravery that you see in people who protest against dictators. It's one thing for an armed man to take on five other armed men: with determination, skill and a lot of luck, he might win. But to hold up a placard saying "Down with Hitler" or "Democracy for XXXXXX now", knowing that your torture and/or death is almost certain - especially if you don't expect to be rewarded in an afterlife for doing the right thing - takes balls on a level that I can't understand. Those Merchant Navy crews fit into that group for me. I suspect we will be seeing many more of these people in the next few years.
 
Not unsung but not known that much by many. Probably the most decorated fighting unit in the U.S. was the 442nd Infantry Regiment. They had around 4,000 Bronze Stars, 4,000 Purple Hearts, and more than 20 Medals of Honor. Later, the whole unit was granted the Congressional Gold Medal.

The unit consisted mostly of Japanese-Americans who had to prove to their fellow countrymen that they were not spies or traitors. Their motto was, "Go for Broke".
 
There's a certain type of bravery that I find almost incomprehensible, the sort of bravery that you see in people who protest against dictators. It's one thing for an armed man to take on five other armed men: with determination, skill and a lot of luck, he might win. But to hold up a placard saying "Down with Hitler" or "Democracy for XXXXXX now", knowing that your torture and/or death is almost certain
With this in mind -
Sophie and Hans Scholl
 
The whole WW2 Burma front is often forgotten these days, but it was the scene of extremely fierce fighting, particularly at Kohima, where the British forces (including many Indian and Commonwealth troops) ultimately stopped and destroyed the Japanese army. Had the Japanese captured India, it would have been an absolute bloodbath.

If you are interested, "Quartered Safe Out Here" by George McDonald Frazer gives his memoirs of the Burma campaign.
 

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