World War II was the greates military struggle in human history. Millions of people from every importnt county were involved in the struggle. HBC has prepared several biographies of some of the main political and military figures involved in the War. The biographies here just scratch the suyrface as t the important individuals involved in the struggle. We plan to add additional biographies and encourafe readers to submit biogrphies of individuals they believe to have played important roles.
Many of these biographies, however, are just at the beginning phase. As the focus of HBC is on childhood, we will give some attention to their childhood in addition to providing information on their adult lives as well for the historical background.
Douglas MacArthur was one of America's important five-star military commanders in World War II. An HBC contributor commented that General Douglas MacArthur was raised as a girl. HBC stresses that it is a misnomer to say that MacArthur and other children born in the 19th Century were raised as girls. It is true that he wore dresses as a little boy. But this was the case for most boys, especially boys from families of comfortable circumstance. This does not mean they were raised as girls. McArthur grew up on western miltary posts and had quite a vigorous boyhhood. It is true, however, that his mother looked after him even as an older boy, even taking an apartment at West Point.
He distinguished himself as a courageous divisionjal commander in World War I. He was a modernizing force after the War, serving as commandant of West Point andChief of Staff of the Army. His right-wing outlook caused him to brutally supress the Bonus Marchers which along with personal scandal tarnished his military career. With rising Japanese military threats, President Roosevelt sent him to the Philippines to organize the Commonwealth's defense. He did some good work, but performned poorly when the Japanese attacked. P resident Roosevelt ordered him to Australia to organize an Allied counter offensive. Here he performed much more effectively. Ironically, despite his miltary achirvements perhaps his greatest achievement was overseeing the occupation of Japan and helping to create a modern democratic society. MacArthur also comanded United Nations forces in Korea. He engineered the brilliant Inchon landings which broke the back of the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Ignoring warnings of Chinese interbention, he drove north leading to the tragedy of the Chosun Reservoir and the near collapse of the United Nations position. President Truman finally fired him for insubordination.
Erich von Manstein was one of Germany's most competent, often described as brilliant, military commanders. He was born in Berlin (1887) and raised there in a military family. His father was an artillery officer. As a boy, Erich was an Imperial court page. He then went through a 6-year cadet program. He then joined the Imperial German Army. He was commissioned in the 3rd Footguards (1906). With the outbreak of World war I he was part of the German invasion of Belgium (August 1914). Once the Western Front settled into static trench warfare, he was transferred to the Eastern Front and wounded in Polsnd (November 1914). When he recovered, he continued fighting in theEastern Front. He was transferred to the Western Front as Germany was prepsing a war-winning offensivevin the West (1917). After the War, Manstein was able to remain in the much-reduced German Army--the Reichwehr. This suggests that he already had a fine reputation. He was was appointed chief of operations (1936). He won Promotion to major general and served under General Ludwig Beck as Oberquartermeiser. (Beck would as thecvWar went against Germany would become one of the plotters against Hitler.) Hitler was not impressed with Mnstein because he showed no political commitment to National Socialism. He was thus side lined, assigned to Silesia as commander of the 18th Division. At the onset of the War, Manstein served as chief of staff to the Army Group South commander, General Gerd von Rundstedt, in Poland. Manstein then served a key role with Guenther Blumentritt and Henning von Tresckow in developing an innovative plan to invade France. Hitler had rejected the conservatibe plan offered by OKH and was searching for a bolder plan. Manstein and his colleagues suggested decoying the British and French to the north and then launching the major attack through the wooded Ardennes which the French had concluded was impassible for tanks. Hitler initially rejected the proposal, perhaps because Manstein was involved, but he eventually approved it with some changes. It became known as the Manstein Plan. Manstein was then sent back to Silesia and did not play an important part in the resulting Western offensive until the very end. He served under General Gunther von Kluge. Manstein finally got a command he coveted. He was appointed commander of the 56th Panzer Corps (Februry 1941) as preparations werevadvamcing for Barbarossa--the invasion of the oviet Union. He was was only briefed on Brbarossa at this time. His 56th Panzer Corps served under General Erich Hoepner in Army Group North. At the onset of the invasion, he accomplished notable feats (June 1941). Manstein's 56th Panzer Corps advanced an incredible 100 miles in only 2 days. They seizes the importance bridges at Dvinsk. The following month they captured Demyansk and Torzhok. Based on his performance in the north, he was appointed commander of 11th Army and ordered to conquer the Crimean Peninsula (September 1941). This he achieved except for Sevastopol which held out for months. Manstein helped defeat a Red Army offensive and then finally took Sevastopol (July 1942). This left Manstein as one of the leading German generals. Hitler promoted to field marshal. Manstein was dispatched him to capture Leningrad along with forces withdrawn from Operation Blue (Stalingrad.Caucauses) in the south. He oversaw several important battles, but the hardened defeses of Lenningrad held and the Germans suffered substantial casualties. The major German effort in 1942 was Operation Blue. When the Soviets launched their Stalingrad offensive (Operation Uranus), Hitler ordered Manstein to lead the relief effort to rescue Fredrich von Paulus and the 6th Army at Stalingrad. In bitter winter weather, Manstein with three panzer divisions drove to within 35 miles of Stalingrad. Paulis following Hitler's orders made no effort to breakout. A powerful Red Army counter-attack forced threaten to cut off Manstein's relief collumn. He was forced to withdraw west into the Ukraine. Manstein oversaw an overhaul of the battered German forces (Spring 1943). He gained a victory at Krasnograd. The Soviets suffered about 23,000 men killed and 9,000 captured. But this was a mere pittance compared to the great victories of 1941 and nomwherevnear the scale of victory needed to reverse the course of the War in the East. The Soviets quickly replaced the losses. Manstein then recaptured Kharkov (March 14) and Belgorod (March 18). Manstein wanted to then push south to the Sea of Azoz. Hitler overuled him and ordered him to overssee the Kursk offensive. After thge Kursk offensive failed, Manstein continued to argue with Hitler about tactics and strategy. By this time, the War was irrevocably lost and the Red Army surperority in men and materiual unsurmountable. Manstein was no toddy and as Hitler had preceived at an early stage was not a committed National Socialist. Hitler finally dismissed him (March 1944). Manstein took the considerable honorarium awarded along with much of the family savings and purchased an estate in East Prussia. [Murry and Millet, p. 401.] This has to be the worst real estate deal in histoy. The Native Americans got a better deal when they sold Manhattan. It speaks to the fact that even the finest mind in the Wehrmacht was unaware as to just how badly Germany's military situation had deteriorated. Many believe he was complicit in the Wehrmacht plot against Hitler. After the war Manstein was among the Wehrmacht commanders charged with war crimes. Manstein at his trial argued that he was unaware that genocide was taking place in territory over which he had military jurisdiction. This clearly was an outright lie. He may have been unable to do much about it, but he must have know about the widespread killings and the Euinsatzgruppen. Evidence was produced that Manstein had ordered that "the Jewish Bolshevik system be wiped out once and for all". There is no doubt he was an anti-Communist. Just to what extent he condoned the killing of Jews is less clear. He 'requested' that Wehrmacht officers should not be present during the killing of Jews. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment (February 24, 1950). He was freed for medical reasons (May 6, 1953). His published his war memoirs, Lost Victories after release from prison (1955). Manstein died (June 11, 1973).
President Franklin Roosevelt chose General George C. Marshall to be U.S. Army Chief of Staff. He was promoted to full General and sworn in (September 1, 1939). This was of course the German panzers invaded Poland launching World War II. Geberak Marshall would serve in that position throughout the War. America had virtually no army when General Msrshall became chief of staff. The U.S.nArmy was the size of that of Romania and the great bulkmof the population werec determined to stay out of tge Wr. It was President Roosevelt who mustered the political will to begin the creation of a massive armed forces with America's first peace time draft. It was General Marshall who oversaw the creation of that vast military force and the strategy that defeated the Axis. Of all the great Five-Star American commanders of World War II, it was General Marshall who played the most critical role. He was and probably still is the most underappreciated figure in World war II. Americans in a poll conducted in America during the War barely mentioned Marshall. Americans focused on the fighting commanders and because of the press coberage were fixated on General MacArthur who was in fact one of the most ineffective comanbders. America fought the war with a green citizen;s army. The peace time army was so small that civilins had to play major roles in the war effort. It was Marshall who oversaw that expansion and made sure they got the training and weapons they needed yo sin the War. It was also Msrshall who chose the key commanders. He was stick with McArthur, but Eisenhower, Patton, Bradely and others were men that he brought forward. The key American action of World war II was the D-Day cross-channel invasion. From the nset, it was assumed that Marshall woukld oversee the invasion. Finally President Roosevelt decided that he coukd not spare Marshall in Washington. This was probably the greatest disappointment in Msrshall;s career. He took it like a soldier and suggested Eisenhower for the job. It was one of the key decisions of the War. It is impossible to think of an Allied commander who could have done a better job.
Milch serrved in the Germany Army during World War I. He helped found Lufthansa during the inter-War era . Field Marshal Erhard Milch was a senior Luftwaffe commander. Milch had a Jewish father. When the issue was raised, Luftwaffe Chief Herman Göring intervened and Milch's mother claimed that her husband was not the father of her boys. Milch was one of the few people with a Jewish background tolerated by Hitler in a position of authority. I do not know when he learned of the Holocaust or justified continuing service in the Luftwaffe. Milch was primarily involved in the production of aircraft. Here the Luftwaffe's failure to adopt mass production techniques soon enough was a major reason for failures in the East and West. He was a strong proponent of the V-1 buzz bomb project. He was involved in the Jaegerstab program. After a falling out with Göring, Milch worked with Albert Speer who took on the job of rationlizing German war oroduction, Milch became member of the Central Planning Board. After the War, Milch was tried by Tribunal 2 at Nuremberg (1946-47). He was indited with three counts: 1) War crimes: Mistreatment of civilians of occupied territories and prisoners of war as slave laborers; 2) War crimes: Medical experiments (high altitude and freezing) on concentration camp inmates; 3) Crimes against humanity: Slave labor and medical experiments on German nationals and citizens of other countries. The Allies accused Milch of direct participation in the conscription and mistreatment of slave laborers and of administrative responsibility for the medical experiments conducted for the Luftwaffe to develop procedures to treat air crews suffering from exposure at high alditudes or forced down in the cold water of the North Sea or Channel. Milch testified in his own defense.
The Tribunal acquitted Milch of involvement in the medical experiments, but and found him guilty of the charges involving slave labor. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was commuted to 15 years in prision (1951).
Otto Moritz Walter Model was a German general/field marshal who became one of Hitler's favorites. Very little is known about his childhood. He came from a modest middle-class family, rare among German commanders. His father was a music teacher and he had a strong Lutheran upbrining. Before shooting himself, he burned his papers so very little is known about his early life. His decesion to pursue a military career was as personal commitment as a young teenager. He participated in most of the major campaigns of the War beginning in Poland (1939). He also participated in the Western offensdive (1940). He only became a major commander with Operation Typhoon to seize Moscow. Model stood out as commander of the 9th Army in the efforts to blunt the resulting Red Army offensive. This was the first of several defensive battles on the Eastern and Western fronts for which he is best known. Some military historians describe him as the Wehrmacht's best defensive tactician. Helping to Keep Army Group Center intact and stabising the front cemented his reklationship with German Führer Adolf Hitler who came to distrust most Wejhrmacht commanders. The relatiionship with Hitler and the NAZIs is debated by historians. Some believe he was a commited NAZI. Other believe that he was an authoritarian who used Hitler to build his career. He was no toddy. He avoided political missues, but in several instances had heated discussions with Hitler who in some instance uncharacteistically backed down. It was Model who convinced Hitler to allow the &th rmy to withdraw from France to the West Wall defenses. His relationship with Hitler finally ended with the failure of the Bulge offensive which Hitler had ordered. The Soviets indicted him for war crimes, specifically the deaths of 0.6 million in Latvian concentration camps and the deportation of 0,2 million as slave labor. The charges seem more political than juridical, but we do not yet have the details. After the Allies crossed the Rhine and surrounded Army Group B in the Ruhr, Model refused to surrender, but disolved the the army group. Goebbels on the radio called Army Group B traitors. The next day Model Shot himnself (April 1945).
The Sultan was a French client, Mohammed V (1909-61). The German victory provided an opportunity to expand his perogarives against a weakened France. The role of Mohammad V in the Holocaust is a matter of historical debate. He became Sultan in 1927. He was a member of the Alaouite Dynasty which dates from the 17th century. Mohammed was only the third son of Sultan Moulay Yusuf and not in line for the throne. French officials when his father died (1927), selected him over his older brothers, judgeing him to be more maleable than his older brothers. He proved, however, to have strong nationalist tendencies. This became apparent a few years after his selection. The French had set up the Berber Dahir legislation (1930). The legislature had approved different legal systems for the two main Moroccan ethnic groups (Berbers and Arabs). This proved unpopular with both groups. The French had supported it as aay of dividing Moroccans and thus strengthening the Protectorate. It proved a mistake, dividing the country, but provoking anti-French nationalis sentiment. Mohammed advised the French to rescind it (1934). Moroccan nationalists conceived of a way of promoting nationalist sentiment without provoking the French. They organized the Fête du Trône, an annual Throne Day festival celebrated on the anniversary of Mohammed's assumption of power. Mohammed used these celebrations to give speeches that, though moderate, clearly encouraged nationalist sentiment. The French were unsure how to respond, after all they had chosen Mohammed. They eventually consented to making the festival an official holiday. Mohammed thus during the 1930s gradually built his nationalist credentials, but without breaking with the French. We have noted reports that Mohammed helped to complicate the efforts of Vichy officals to apply NAZI-style race laws in Morocco. He could not prevent it, but his efforts meant that Moroccan Jews were not as affected by the Vichy laws as Jews in Algeria. He wasunavle to openly defy Vichy authorities, but he did barfgain with them and obtain cincessions. And he did openly express his sypathies toward Moroccan Jews. Mohammed after Torch came out strongly in support of the Allies. I'm less sure about his sentiments before Torch. After the Casablanca Conference (January 1943) he met with President Roosevelt who encouraged him to seek independence after the War. French authorities arrested nationalist activists (January 1944). This was the beginning of a decline in relations with the French.
Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was a leading Soviet politician and diplomat amd staunch supporter of Josef Stalin. He was born in Kukarka (now Sovetsk in Kirov Oblast). His father was a shop clerk--not the best credetials for a Soviet leader. He developed revolutionary ideas at an early age. Molotov like Stalin was a revolutionary nom de guerre. He was also one of the few Old Bolsheviks to die a ntural death. He becme a leading figure in the Soviet government as a a protégé of Joseph Stalin (1920s). Molotov served as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (Premier) (1930-41). As such, it wasMolotov as Primier who announced Stalin's Collctivization Program leading to the campaign against the peasantry and th Ukranian Famine. e then served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1939-49 and again after Stalin's death (1953-56). He also served as First Deputy Premier from (1942-57). Nikita Khrushchev after achieving control of the Soviet Union dismissed him from the Presidium of the Central Committee for opposing his Destaninization effort. Molotov became the foreign ace of the Soviet Union. First this was with the NAZIs. As Foreign Minister, he was the principal Soviet signatory of the infamous NAZI–Soviet Non-aggression Pact which essentially launced Woeld war II. It was also referred tom as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The key provisions were a secret protocol that setout the partioning of Poland and essentialy Eastern Europe. The Soviets also agreed to supply vast quantities of critical war material to the NAZI war machine. Molotov knew of the attrocities and war crimes committed by the NKVD in the Soviet Union and areas occupied by the Red Army such as the Katyn massacre. Molotov negotiated with the NAZIs, primaru on issues concerning the partioning of Eastern Euroe, visting Berlin, meeting with Hitler (November 1940). The Non-aggression Pact made the Soviet Union and NAZI Germany allies until the German invasion (June 1941). At this pont, Molotob began diplomatic contats with the Western Allies and this continued after the War. He was regognized for his diplomatic skills and his blunt, determined, and forceful opponent of Western policies.. this continued until 1948 when he abrutly lost Stalin's favor. the first sign was stalin ordering the arrest of his Jewish wife, Polina Zhemchuzhina for treason (1948). And then Stalin replaced him as Forign Minister with Andrei Vyshinsky (1949). It is not known with any certainty what caused Stalin' state of mind. Stalin also was upset with mentioned Molotov's speech at the 19th Party Congress (1952). here is no way of knowing what was involvd here, but because Beria also had lost Stalin's favor, it was probably Stalin's way of beginning the process of doingway with the two men most of aware of stalin;s involvement in terible attrocitoes. In Molotov's case, he was an uncomfotable remoinder of stalin's alliance with Hitler. Khrushchev reports that Stalin had plans for 'finishing off' Molotov and Mikoyan. surprisingly, as he was about to be purged, Molotov after Stalin's death was a leading opponnt of Khrushchev's De-Stalinization effort. Molotov staunchly defended the policies and legacy of Stalin until his death in 1986. He sharply criticised Stalin's successors, especially Khrushchev. Apprently he did not object to the killing and Gulag, he just did not want to be one of the victims. a factor here is that if he repudiated Stalin, he would have been repudiating his own political carer and achievements.
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery achieved the first important land victory over the Germans by defeating Rommel and the Afrika Korps at El Alamein. Churchill had replaced Auchinleck with Montgomery after Rommen had been stopped at El Alemain. Montgomery was the most inspirational British military commander. The 8th Army's victory was due to Montgomery's competent leadership and overwealming material superority as a result of vast quantities of weapons and supplies provided by the United States. Montgomery saw his victory as a result of his brilliant leadership and looked down on mist other commanders--especially American commanders. His arrogant attitude made him extremely difficult to ework with. Alexander was one of the few high ranking officers that was able to manage it with any equanimity--mostly by rarely disagreeing with him. One observr described Montgomery as "annintensely compacted hank of steel wire". Montgomery bridled when Eisenhower was given command of the Allied assault on Hitler's Fortress Europe. Montgomery was the senior British military commander at D-Day. American commanders are generally critical of Montcomery's failure to take Caen with the uinitial landings and subsequent operauions to take the city. The failed Market Garden offensive to cross the Rhine was largely planned by Mongomery. He continued as the senior British commander through to VE-Day.
Dudley Walker Morton known as "Mush" was the most famed American submarine commander of World War II. Morton was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. He graduated from the Naval Academy (1930). While at Anapolis he acquired his nickname 'Mushmouth' later shortened to Mush. He married Hariet Nelson Avent in Tsigtao, China, a treaty port (1936). He commanded the fleet sunmarine USS Wahoo (SS-238) during the peak of the Pacific War, taking her on five combat patrols. The Wahoo sank at least 19 Japanese ships, more than any other submarine during a comparable period. Morton and Wahoo never returned from the last patrol.
Heinrich Mueller after World War I joined the Munich police. The Communists had seized Munich in the chaos after the War. After putting down the revolution, the police went after Communists. Muller earned the reputation as a skilled anti-communist investigator. He felt no compulsion to be bound by legal norms. He thus drew the attention of leading NAZIs like Himmler and Göring. After seizing power (1933) Hummler was appointed to head the Bavarian police. He and Heydeich move to centralize the country's police organization within the SS structure. One aspectvof this was to turn the small Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) into a nationalm political poluce force. Mueller joined the SS and with his backgrouns quickly rose as a skilled police official. With the outbreak of the War, the Gestapo and other police organizations were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA). Mueller was appointed Chief of RSHA Amt IV -- the Gestapo (September 1939). As Gestapo chief, Mueller among was resonsible for pursuing individuals anf groups considered a security threat. This included the Jews.
Adolf Eichmann's Office of Resettlement and then its Office of Jewish Affairs was under Mueller's command. I am not sure how extensively Muller was directly. Göring, Himmler, and Heydrich seem nore directly involved, but this is a subject we need to investigate. Mueller was involved in other war crimes. He was involved in planning the fake "Polish" attack on the Gleiwitz radio station which the Germans used to justify the invasion of Polahnd (September 1939).
He approved the the "Bullet Order uthorizing the shooting of escaped prisoners of warbMarch 1944). He also authorized the torture of army officers involved in the July Bomb Plot tomkill Hitler (July 1944). For his work investigationg the plot, Hitler awarded him the Knight's Cross to the War Service Cross with Swords (October 1944). He was especially active in security and counterespionage operations during the War. He created a counterespionage effort that supplied disinformation to the Soviet intelligence services (1942-45). Muller disappeared in the last days of the War (May 1945). He was never found and brought to justice. Some believe that in an escape bid from Berlin that he was killed by a sniper's bullet.
Josef Müller was born in Steinwiesen, Upper Franconia (1898). He became a lawyer. He was a Bavarian politician with the Bavarian People's Prty during the Weimar republic. As a devout Catholic, he was a member of the Catholic anti-NAZI resistance during the War.
After Hitler's sizure of power (1933), he fefended individuals arrested by the NAIZs. He soon became involved in the resistance. He developed contacts in the Abwehr (German military intelligence), including Admiral Canaris, Hans von Dohnanyi, and Hans Oster. After Hitler lunched the War (1939), Müller made several trips to the Vatican where he was given the identity "X". He brought letters between the German resistance and British intelligence that hoped to cooperate in a coup to overthrow Hitler and the NAZIs with an anti-Nazi civilian government put in place by the German military. The Pope Pius' Private Secretary, Robert Leiber, acted as an intermediary during meetings in 1930and 40. The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative of Colonel-General Beck. They agreed to serve as an intermediary between the German Resistance and the Allies. Hans Oster, Wilhelm Canaris and Hans von Dohnányi, backed by Beck, told Müller to see if the Pope could ascertain whether the British would enter negotiations with the German opposition which wanted to overthrow Hitler. The British agreed to negotiate, provided the Vatican could vouch for the opposition's representative. The Pope communicating with Britain's Francis d'Arcy Osborne, channelled communications back and forth in total secrecy. The Vatican agreed to send a letter outlining the bases for peace with England and the participation of the Pope was used to try to persuade senior German Generals Halder and Brauchitsch to act against Hitler. Negotiations were tense, with a Western offensive expected at any time. It was agreed that substantive negotiations could only follow the replacement of Hitler and the NAZI regime. The British government understandably had serios doubts as to the ability of the conspirators to overthrow Hitler. The German resistance, however, were encouraged by the talks (1940). Müller told Leiber that a coup would occur in February. Pius hoped for a coup through March. The negotiations collapsed after the Germans scored swift lrgely bloodless victories expecially thedefeat of France (June 1940). Hitler became an enormous heroo in Germany. And the success defused the interest or will of the German military to resist Hitler. The Gestapo arrested Müller during the first raid on he Abwer (1943). He wold spend the rest of the War in NAZI concentration camps. He ended up in Dachau. He was finally interned at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp.
Mussolini was an Italian newspaper editor who founded the Fascist movement and seized control of Italy. As a young man he was a Socialist and edited Avanti, a Milan newspaper. He rejected socialism durung World War I and funded a newspaper of his own, Popolo d'Italia. He served in the Army duruing the War (19150-17) and was seriously wounded. After the War he organized fellow war venterans in the aggresively nationalistic Fascist Party. Strike and disorders gave him an excuse for organizing his Fascist March on Rome (1922), Frightened at the demonstratioin, King Victor Emmanuel asked him to form a government. Using his position as Premier, Mussolini quickly transferred Italy unto a dictatorship. The turning point was the murder of Maztteotti (1924). He had three children (figure 1). Mussolini replaced Italy's parlimnentary democracy with the Fascist Corporate State. He ended the isolatuoin of the Vatican with the Lateran Treaty (1928). He ininiated an extensive public works program with projects like the draining of the Pontine Marshes. He suppressed rebellion in Libya, an Italian colony. He later attacked Ethiopia to add it to other Italian colonies in East Africa (1935-36). He used poison gas in both camoaigns. The League of Natioins proved ineffectual in dealing with Italian aggression. He entered the Axis Alliance with Hitler (1936). He seized Albania (1939) and joined NAZI Germany in World War II by attacking France after after they had been essentially defeated by Germany (1940). World War II proved disasterous for Italy. After the fall of Sicily, Marshall Bafoglio replaced him and had him arrested (1943). Hitler had him rescued and set him up in a puppet Fascist sate in northern Italy. He and his mistress were killed by partisans at the end of World War II (1945).
Pacific War histories tend to focus on Adm. Yamamoto, but while he was commander of the Combined Fleet, he was not the head of the Imperial Navy. That post was held by Adm. Osami Nagano who few, even with an interest in World War II, could name. Nagano was head of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo. Yamamoto in his rise to power and his harboring of unpopular ideas, made many enemies. He was even a target for naval assasins. He was not popular with the Navy General Staff. Yamamoto and Nagano differed on many key points. Thus there was tension between Nagano in Tokyo and and Yanamoto at the fleet anchorage in Hashirajima. (One of the ironies of history is that Hashirajima was located in Hiroshima Bay. In essence, the Pacific War was concived and ended at Hiroshima.) One of the most fundamental differences between Nagano and Yamamoto, and missed in the popular mind, is the difference over Pearl Harbor. Nagano believed that Japan could attack the Brititish and Dutch and seize the Southern Resourze Zone (SRZ) without attacking the Americans. He was convinced and for good reason that because of the Isolationists, President Roosevelt would have difficulty bringing a reluctant America to war unless the United States was directly attacked. [Parshall and Tully, p. 24.] Yamamoto on the other hand believed that if Japan was going to go the war, it must first disable the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Nagano was Yamamoto's superior and the General Staff should have had the final say. Yamamoto, however, prevailed by threatening to resign. In this debate there is no doubt that Yamamoto's argunment was militaily sound, but that Nagano's vision made more political sense. Not only did Yamamoto disagree on Pearl Harbor, but also on Yamamoto's subsequent and much more elaborate Midway plan. Both the Naval and Army General Staffs opposed a massive operation in the Central Pacific. In the end, it would be Americans who decided the issue. Billy Mitchell's daring bombing raid on Tokyo and other cities while of no military consequence shocked the Japanese military to the core. It turned the focus of the entire Japanese military on the Central Pacific.
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (1887-1944) at the time the war broke out in Europe, was the head of the prestigious Naval War College in Tokyo. Before Japan launced the Pearl Harbor attack he was promoted to the rank of vice admiral. He is generally considered a competent, but not innovative or creative. Some of his colleagues questined his intelligence. He was then named the commander of the First Air Fleet, the most prestigious command in the Imperial Navy. Yamaoto was concerned about his appointment. The two were not close. Nagumo had been very critical of the Washingon Naval Accords wich Yamamoto supported. Yamanmoto would have liked a different commander, but after locking horns with the Naval High Command in Tokyo was not able to prevent Nagumo's appountment. The appointment, however, was a matter of seniority. Nagumo thus commanded the all important First Air Fleet at the two most important points of the Pacific War. And both command proved controversial. The stunning success of the Pearl Harbor attack made him a national hero (December 1841). His decesion to cancel the third strike wave, howver, meant that Pearl was left a potent forward naval base with its fleet battered, but the base faciities largely in tact. Yamamoto personally criticized him. The tuurning point of the Pacific War was Midway 6 months later (June 1942). Nagumo's decession not to immeditely order a strike when he learned of the presence of American ships has also been criticized. Mny militry historians blame the debacle on Yamanoto's flawed plan. He was given a largely non-existent naval command on Saipan when the United States invaded (June 1944). He radioed Tokyo, "Hell is upon us."
President Roosevelt appointed Admiral Nimitz to command the Pacific fleet after the disaster at Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Many military historians rank him as the greatest naval commander of the 20th century. And of all the Five Star American commanders in World War II, only Nimitz achieved victories against superior enemy forces. His victory at Midway (June 1942) stopped the Japanese advances in the Pacifuc War before American shipyards had provided him with a massive carrier force. The Pacific Fleet then slugged it out with the Japanese in the Sollmons. The Japanese than withdrew the Imperoal Fleet to rear areas (December 1942). It was Nimitz who oversaw the assembling of forces, the selection of commanders, and conceived the strategy that would lead the drive across the Pacific to the Japanese Homne Islands. This drive was made possible when the new Essex Carriers and air groups with the new Grumman F6F Hellcat began to reach the Fleet, making the United States the dominant naval force in the Pacific and allowing Nimitz to begin the new campaign in the Central Pacific. Unlike MacArthur and Halsey, he was not a flamboyant commander, but cool and deliberate amd more likely to make sure his subordinates got credit for their achievements. He also had aeen appreciation for the Japanese mind set and capabilities. One historian recounts, "Admiral Ruchmond Kelly Turner sent aessage to Nimitz, 'I may be crazybut it looks like the Jaops have quit the war in this sectiin.' Nimitz replied, 'Delete all after "crazy"' Aot mpre Pacific war was to come." [Harris]
Admiral Takijiro Onishi was the Imperial Navy's most respected advocate of aviation. The was near the top of his class at Eta Jima and developed a reputation for seveity. When seven airmen escaped from an Ameican POW camp, he berated them for diobeying standing orders not to taken alive. He demoted them and assigned to a reconnaisance missin over Port Moresby--essentially a death sentnce. [Thomas, p. 140.] He was not inclined toward suiside tactics, but discussed the issue in detail with Captain Jo, the Emperor's naval aide and strong proponenr of Kamikaze tactics. After the disaster in the Philippine Sea and Leyte, Admirl Onishi began organizing special attack units (autumn 1944).
General George S. Patton was one of the prima-donna generals that Heneral Eisenhower had to manage. In his case Eisenhower was astute enough to realize that his talents were worth the effort. Patton was the most effective field commander in the U.S. and perhaps the entire Allied military. It was Patton's grasp of the importance of movement, something that British commanbders never fully mastered, that made him so valuable. Patton was born in San Gabriel, California (1885). He the Army's West Point Military Academy but along with a World War II colleague, Courtney Hodges, did not do well academically. He left after only a year. He began the whole program over and graduated iwith respectable results, 46 out of 103 in his class (1909). He was awarded a commission in the cavalry. At the time it was not yet realized that calvalry was an anarionism. He partipated in Gen. John Pershing's Mexican Expedition. He was deployed to France with the AEF and Gen. Pershing. He was given command of the 304th Tank Brigade. Patton fought at the St. Mihiel Offensive and was seriously wounded at Meuse Argonne. He won the DSC and DSM. After the War, Patton was assigned to the tank centre at Camp Meade where he met and became close friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Patton became the the U.S. Army's foremost expert on tank warfare.
Promotions were slow in coming in the peace-time army and political rather than military talents were often the most important. This began to change with the outbreak of World war II (1939). America slowly began to gird for war, esoecialy after the fall of France (June 1940). Patton was promoted to brigadier general as the U.S. Army began to expand (October 1940). He was given command of the 2nd Armed Division based at Fort Benning. General George Marshall in particular was impressed with him. Immediately after America entered the War, he chose Patton to command the Desert Training Centre at Indio, California (January 1942). Later the same year, Patton joined General Eisenhower in planning Torch. General Marshall was not in favor of the operation, but President Roosevelt and Prime-Minister Churchill insisted that the Allies had to make an offensive move. Patton proved to be one of the finest field commanders of the War. He is best known for the Third Army's swwep through France. His perforamce in the Bulge was arguably his finest feat of arms. He was no doubt one of the prima-sonnas Eisenhower had to contend with, but in his case he produced results. He was criticized for being too willing to take casualties, a charge sometimes levied by less talented colleagues. One author studying the Bulge was impressed ith Patton's situational understanding of the battlefield. [Rickard] The Hollywood film has raised Patton to virtually magestic levels. This is not historically correct. In assessing Patton, a military historian has to keep in mind the enormous Allied advantage in manpower, material, and air power. We are not sure about the German assessment of Patton
A reader suggests that they did not take great notice of him and the only mntion was that he was predictable and hesitant. After the war under interrogation Jodl said "Patton is the most similar to our best Panzer commanders." That actually was quite a compliment.
Friedrich was born in to a comfortable middle-class family (1890). He tried to inlist in the Grman Army cadey program but was deened a place because he did npt ome from an aristocratic family. He subsequently joined a Baden unit and served in word war I. He was involved in the invasion of Poland (1939) and the Western Offensive (1940). He condcted a critical evaluatin of Rommel nd the Afrika Korps. He helped plan Barbarossa, but Hitler ignored many of his recommendations. He became a protege of arch-NAZI Gen. Walther von Reichenau who Hitler appointed to replace Von Rundstedt who coomnded Army Group South. Reichenau’s promoted Paulus’s despite his lack of commnd experience and Hitler appointed him to command (January 1942). One of his first acts was to rescinded the 'Severity Order' that had been issued by Reichenau in October 1941 authorizing the execution of Jews and Russian prisoners of war within his command area, none-the-less atrocities continued. It was Paulas tht commded the drive toward Stalingrad, interupted more by fuel and other supply shortages than Red army resistance. After the Soviets launhed Uranus, it soon became clear tht the sixth Army was doomed. His sta=ff officers adbised a breakout which the Doxth Army still had a degree of mobility ad the Red Army positions were not yet well established. His staff also informed him that the Luftwaffe despite, Göring's pledge, cold not supply the Army. Hitler dened Paulis' request to break out. Paulis seems to have believed Hitler's promise of relief and did not belive in disobeying the Führer' orders. And the Sixth's Army's mobility quickly declined. The last possibility of breal out came when Manstein's Winter Storm ffensive drive toward stalingrad. Still Paulis refused to disobey Hitler's orders. The result was disaster and Paulis' surrender--finally disobeying Hitler who had appointed him Field Marshal. He spent the rest of the war as a Soviet POW. He refused to make Soviet propnganda broacasts until after the July Bomb Plot wwhen Hitler ordered the execution of close friends.
Marshal Philippe Pétain was perhaps the oldest man to play an important role in World War II. He was the hero for France in the pivotal Battle of Verdun during World War I. He was a hero of World War I, but seen by many as a traitor during World war II. His World war II role is more complex. His policies probably saved many French lives, but put the future of France in jeporady. Philippe Pétain was born in Cauchy-à-la-Tour near St. Omer (1856). He was educated at a Dominican college at Arceuil, He joining the infantry in 1878 as an officer, a few years after the Franco-Prussian War which united Germany, thus shaping French strategic perspectives. He taught at the École de Guerre. he was promoted to colonel (1912) and to general just before the outbreak of World War I (1914). Pétain during the War acquired the reputation among the ordinary soldiers as an officer who genuinely man about their well being, all to rate in the class-based French officer corps. He was given command of the embatteled French Second Army at Verdun. Losses were horendous on both sides. Verdun had been conceived by Germnan General Falkenhayn as a way of breaking thec French Army. He nearly suceeded, but also weakened the German Army. Pétain managed to hold the Germans and prevent the Fremch Army from esintegrating. Pétain managed to turn a looming massive defeat into a victory of sorts. At least Verdun did not fall to the Germans. The French Army was, however, badly damaged, after Verdun it was incapable of further major offensive operations. The rest of the War would be carried by the British and Americans. Had Petain's military career ended with World War I he would be considered a revered figure in France. Unfortunately for the Marshal it did not. He is as a result, a controversial figure. Pétain had right-wing views that were out of step with French politics duringf thge intet-War era. He retired from the Army after serving as Minister of War (1934). He was appointed the first ambassadir to Franbci's Spaoin (1939). Out of the Army, he was not connected with the disaster of 1940. He was re-called from Spain and appointed Prime Minister (June 16. 1940 just as the Germans were about to enter Paris. The choice France had was to make peace with Germany or form a government in exile and continue the War from its colonirs and Britain. Pétain saw the war as lost and the only real choice was to coillaborate with the German victors. Pétain concluded an armistice with the Germans (June 22). Havbing concluded that all was lost, he set out to cut the best deal possible. The central error that Pétaon and his Vichy acolytes made was that if Germany won the war, there was nothing to hold Hitler to any bargains he may have made.
The termns of the armistice were severe, although not as severe as the other countries defeated by the Germans. Some authors speculate that Hitler was trying to convince the British to make peace. The terms of the armistice split France in two. The German administered the territory they had occupied during their invasion. It was the entire Atlantic coast from which they could pursue the war with Britain, both bu air and sea. Pétain, with his National Assembly government based in Vichy, administered the southern half of the country under German supersision. Vichy was allowed to retain control of the colonies. the National Assembly gave Pétain the authority to rule by decree, essentially using authoritarian methods, to purify France of its pre-War 'moral decadence' (July 10). The Vichy police proceeded to act without constitutional restraint. NAZI-style anti-Semetic laws were quickly implemented. The police would help the Germans round up both Resistance elements and Jews who were then deported east to the NAZI death camps. Less well know is that the Vichy police also taegeted French agents working for the Germans. Pétain was at first popular in France. He ended the War and the German occupation was at first correct without the excesses in the East. Pétain's popularity only began to decline as the Germans began to expeience military defeats. The Germans begab making greatrer demands on the French, especially the conscription of French workers for war work in the Reich. German exploutation of the economy meant that rationing became increasingly severe. Gradually Pétain began to be seen less as a national savior and more as a German puppet. After the D-and the Normandy breakout, the retreating Germans took Pétain with them. After the German surrender (May 1945), the Provisional Government put Pétain and other Vichy figures on trial for treason. Pétain was found guilty. He was stripped of his rank of marshal of France and sentence him to death. This death sentence was subsequently commuted to life in prison on the Île de d’Yeu in the Bay of Biscay. Pétain died there (1951). He asked to be buried at Verdun with his men. French Governments have denied him this honor.
SS Col. Jochen was a true believer in the NAZI cause. He was inducted into the SS at the age of 20 years, immediately caught up into the ethos of a faternal ordr of Germn patriots Himmler was creating. A biographer describes the experience. "It was one hour before midnight on November 9, 1935, when Joachim Piper swore absolute alligiance to Adolf Hitler .... Great red chalice-like torches--pylons fifreen feet high, adorned with menancing eagles -- stood on the elvated marble stage above th huge central square of the Odeonplatz. The cupped flames blazed brightly on each pedestal, spreding the faint odor of burning kerosene. to the year a backdrop of red curtains, twebtly meters high,hung from the curved ceiling, whoch loomed above. Two massive stone lions glowered from the altar on to a 'sea of black steel helmets' in the great plza. The mass of uiformed SS trropers, orderedin rows and column, strangely reflected the n;ood-red glow ofthe torhlight." [Parker] He was Heinrich Himmler's Adjutant and commander of a 1st SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler regiment. He was involved in some of the major World war II battles including Kharkov, Kursk, and finally the Bulge. His brutal style of warfare made him one of Hitler's favorites. Hitler chose him to lead what would be the spearhead of the Bulge offensive. Hitler made it clear to his commanders that nothing was to be allowed to slow them down. There is no dount that he was both committed to his Führer and brutal, there is some question about his effectiveness as a commander. Command errors may have ruined whatever small chance the Germans had of success. He was also implicated in major attrocities in Italy and Belgium. After the War, he became the central figure in the Malmedy Massacre investigation. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, but later released. He was killed during a shoot out in Frane, but his killers have never been identified.
The College of Cardinals in early 1939 fully recognized that war was coming. They chose a diplomat as the man most suited to oversee the Church. There was great concern for Pope Pius XII during World War II, escpecially after Germany occupied Rome (1943). Pope Pious was generately considered to be a compassionate man of peace during the War who did what he could to protect Jews and others. There were tributes to him after the War. This view continued for many years after the War. This began to change with various authors began to Pious' record, especially is failure to speak out more forcefully against the Holocaust. There is some validity for this charge. Some might argue, however, that this may have done little good and brought attacks on both the Church and Catholics. The Church charges a campaign of vilification. The role of Pope Pious XII during World War II has been intensly debated by historians. Some charge that he was a weak, church bureaucrat, more concerned with protecting the treasures of the Vatican than the opressed people of Europe. The issue is very complicated There are reports of Pope Pius intreauging with the British and German Generals (1940). The Pope did hide 5,000 people when the NAZIs began to round up Roman Jews (October 1943). The controversy about Pious continues today. At best his resonse was timid at worst some writers view him as virtually complicit. [Corwell] Those who criticise today certainly do so from the safty of a more secure world. Another historian refutes many of the charges against the Pope, pointing out his many statements criticizing the NAZIs even before he became pope. Therewere also many instances of Pope Pius XII protecting Jews. [Dalin]
Puyi was born in 1906 and and on the death of his uncle Guangxu became the last emperor of China. We have noted various spellings, P'u-i, Puyi, Pu-Yi, and Buyi. Unlike his newphew, he did not have the Dowager Empress as regent. Pu Yi's father, Prince Ch'un, served as his son's regent. The prince, however, disliked politics and court officials conducted givernment affairs. Reformers in China demanded change and action aginst the Europeans. They considered Prince Ch'un weak and the imperial regime corrupt and backward--incapable of challenging the Europeans. Puyi was raised by court officials who taught him to leave a desolate life. A Scottish tutor, Reginald Johnston, was hired for him. Puyi was forced to abdiagate in 1912 after the 1911 Republican Revolution. He was permitted to live in the Forbidden City until 1924. He was courted by the Japanese who had acquired the former German concessions in Manchuria. Puyi took up residence in the Japanese concession at Tientsin. The Japanese gradually expanded their control of Manchuria. They installed him in 1933 as Emperor of the puppet state of Manchoukuo. He met with Emperor Hirohito. We do not know the nature of their discussions. Puyi was surprised to learn that he had no real authority. The Soviet invaded Manchuria in the final weeks of World War II and turned him over to the Chinese for trial as a war criminal. The Chinese pardoned him in 1959. He returned to Beijing where he worked in the mechanical repair shop of a botanical garden and died in 1967. Puyi's life was beautifully told in the film, "The Last Emperor".
Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller was the most decorated Marine in American history. Puller was born in West Point, Virginia (1898). His father was a grocer who died when Lewis was 10 years old. He grew up listening to elderly veterans telling stories of the Civil War and idolizing Confederate hero Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. He wanted to enlist in the United States Army to fight in the Border Conflict tht broke out with Mexico after Oabcho Villa's raids (1916). He was underage and his mother refused give him parental consent. He then enrolled on the Virginia Military Institute wher Jackson had taught. He left to enlist during World War I telling his instructors he wanted to "go where the guns are!" He was inspired by by press reports of the 5th Marines at Belleau Wood and enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private. The Germans surrendered before he was trained and sent overseas. He then earned a commission. He was a life-long Marine fighting first guerrillas in Haiti and Nicaragua and thn participated in some of the most important battles of the Pacific War and the Korean War. Most American World War II commanders gained fame and success when the United States had overwealming numerical and military superiority. Puller gained fame against Japanese forces that were well-armed and had numerical superority. He led a formation of the 7th Matine Division that reinforcded the battered 1st Division on Guadalcanal (September 1942). He played key roles in the ensuing major battles, including Matanikau and the all important Battle for Henderson Field which left 1,400Japanese dead in the fiekd while the Marines ad armies suffered onbly 70 casualties. The action broke the backbine of the Japanese effort to retake Guadalcanal. Puller was then involved in the effort to take Pelelei (September-October 1944). This was probably the greatest American mistake of the war. But Puller was not part of the staff decesion to assault the island, he only was part if the unit order to take it. He performed an incredible feat of arms against entrenched Japanese forces. And then later in the Korean war, he played an incredible job getting the Marines out of the Chosen Peninsula. Puller is one of two U.S. servicemen to be awarded five Navy Crosses and, with the Distinguished Service Cross he was awarded by the U.S. Army, he is the only person to have received six of the nation's second-highest awards for valor.
Major General Elwood R. Quesada, known as Pete is certainly the most important military figure of World War II unknown to the general public. It was Gen Quesada who more than any other single individual who took annair force built by the Bomber Boys (Arnols, Saaty, and Eaker) and turned it into aar winning tactival airforce with very little support from Army Air Corps brass, but a great deal from The U.S. Army brass (Marshal, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Hodges). When America entered World War II, it did not have a tactical air force. Air Force commanders like Hap Arnold were convimced that strategic boming would win the War and were convinced that the best service the Army Air Corps could give to to American ground firces was to destroy the German war economy. The Bomber BBoys wanted to win the war, not support anyone. They thus opposed draining off resources from this strategic objective to tactical ground support. Quesada's achiewvement is all the more remarkable in that as a junior officer he generally accepted the overall concensus in the Army air Corps. It is atribute to Quesada that when given his first command, it was a newly formed air defense unit with fighters. From this post he bgan toi see the potential for tactical operations. As part of the Day-Day planning he was put in charge of american tatical air. Amazingly, the Bomber Boys prevented actual training exercizes until a month before D-Day, ordering his unit to provide escort protection for the bombers. Even so, his IX Fighter Command would be the nucleus of American tactical operations which played a key role in the success of the Normandy fighting, thevbreak out, the liberation of France, and the Bulge campaign. At the time there was no Army or Air Force mannuals on tactical air, Quesada literally wrote the book. [Hughes] And given the importance of tactical air in American ground operations, Quesada deserves a much higher place in World war II histories than he has recieved. Most World War II histories focus on the Bomber Boys.
Hadler, Generaloberst. Kriegstagebuch ed. Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, 3 vol (Stuttgart, 1962).
Harris, Brayton. Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater (2011), 256p.
Hampton, Dan. Lords of the Sky: How Fighter Pilots Changed War forever from the Red Baron to the F-16 (2014), 608p.
Hughes, Thomas Alexander. Over Lord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II(The Free Press: New York, 1995), 380p.
Murray, Williamson and Allan R. Millet. A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Belknap: Cambridge, Massaschusetts, 2009), 656p
Parker, Danny S. Hitler's Warrior: The Life and Wars SS ColonelJochn Piper (2015), 480p.
Parshall, Jonathan and Anthony Tully. Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books: Washington, D.C., @007), 612p. First ublished in 2005. This book is very valuable because unlike most Midway histories it focuses on the Japanesecsde of the battle.
Picker, Henry, ed. Percy Ernst Schramm. Hitlers Tischgespäche im Führerhauptquartier, 1941-42 (Stuttgart, 1963).
Reitsch, Hanna. The Sky My Kingdom (1955).
Rickard, John Nelson. Advance and Destry: Patton as Commander in the Bulge.
Schramm, Percy Ernst., ed. Kriegstagebuch des OKW iv: 1944-45 (Frankfurt-on Main, 1961), pt. 2.
Thomas, Evan. Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945 (Simon & Schuster: New York, 2006), 414p.
Wistrich, Robert. Who's who in Nazi Germany (Macmillan Publ., New York, 1982).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II biography page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]