My Top Five WWII Navy Movies

Continuing with my WWII movie theme, here are my favorite Navy movies, (that is movies about the Navy on the water, not on land). Most of these are set in the Pacific Theatre because that’s where the larger naval battles took place fighting the Japanese. In the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy mostly fought the German U-boats attacking convoys headed for England.

5. The Enemy Below (1957)

Staring Robert Mitchum as Captain of an American destroyer escorting an Atlantic convoy and Curt Jurgens Captain of a German U-Boat. It’s a cat and mouse chase where the American Captain goes after the German Captain each gaining respect for the other. You’ll have to watch it to see how it ends. I’ll just say the end is exactly what you would expect – one sinks the other, but there’s more to it which makes the whole movie worthwhile.

4. Operation Pacific (1951)

John Wayne, Patricia Neal and Ward Bond star in the story of a submarine in the South Pacific dealing with torpedo’s that don’t explode when fired. After two encounters with the Japanese when their torpedo’s fail, the last ending in the death of the captain, Ward Bond, Executive Officer Wayne searches for a solution. My favorite aspect of this movie is the rekindled romance between Wayne and his ex-wife Patricia Neal, a Navy Nurse. There’s plenty of action to see in this movie, but the romance makes it one of my favorites.

3. PT-109 (1963)

The story of Pres. John Kennedy’s heroic actions during WWII. The film, made during Kennedy’s presidency, stars Cliff Robertson as Kennedy, Ty Hardin, Robert Culp, Robert Blake, and Norman Fell. After their small PT boat is rammed by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy rescues a wounded crew member by swimming him ashore. He leads the crew on another dangerous swim before they are finally rescued after many days stranded on an island. Kennedy is a favorite of mine and this true story proves he was a real hero.

2. Midway (1976)

The 1942 Battle of Midway Island proves to be turning point in the Pacific. An impressive cast, including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Wagner, depicts this epic battle at sea. This excellent war movie is one you should not miss.

1. In Harms Way (1965)

This epic naval war movie stars John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, and many more. The action starts on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor where Wayne, a determined Naval officer escapes with a small group of ships. Relieved from duty and put on a desk, he wants to get back in the fight. Again, the romance between Wayne and Patricia Neal, Navy Nurse. Other complications include Wayne meeting his estranged son, now in the Navy; the son’s romance; and Douglas’ drunken violence. Wayne gets himself reassigned to lead an important operation and the naval battles begin. As you can guess, I like the romance angle in this movie. It’s plot is complicated by complex characters, each with their own baggage. The acting is superb, as is the action, weaving an excellent movie I could watch over and over.

June 6 – D-Day 70th Anniversary, But what else was happening?

The 70th anniversary of D-Day is approaching and many of us will commemorate that history-making event, but the invasion of Europe was not the only thing happening in the days leading up to and right after June 6, 1944. A world-wide war did not come to a stand-still for one event regardless of its momentous implications. So I decided to research and find out what else was going on.

Where was my father-in-law and the others in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion? They were at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, training on their M-7 track-mounted 105 mm guns and on small arms. After May 1 all furloughs had been discontinued in anticipation of orders to ship out. Fortunately for me, those orders were delayed and local passes continued. Had they not been my father-in-law and mother-in-law would never have met. They were married on June 20, 1944, after knowing each other only twelve days. Orders to leave Camp Campbell for a secret destination finally came on June 23. The battalion traveled by train to Camp Shanks, N. Y., for shipment overseas. They sailed for England on July 1, 1944.Paul and Earlene Whitaker

Despite the build up of troops in England prior to D-Day, many remained in the U.S. awaiting overseas orders. Once the invading forces established a beachhead, additional soldiers and equipment would be needed to retake Europe.

In June 1944, the 97th Infantry Division was training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. As a soldier in the 97th, my uncle Roland Roby would not sail for Europe until February, 1945. He later went to Japan as part of the occupation forces.

Meanwhile, my uncle, D. T. (Boots) Knight, was on the other side of the world fighting the Japanese. The 947th Field Artillery Battalion in support of the 41st Infantry Division landed on Biak Island, just north of western New Guinea, on May 27, 1944. Approximately 11,000 Japanese troops defended the island and its airfields. Prior to the landing, intelligence indicated only 4,400 Japanese were on the island so the campaign proved more difficult than anticipated. The island was not fully taken until August. The 947th received a commendation for their firing on Biak. Prior to the Biak campaign the 947th had been part of the Hollandia campaign on New Guinea in April and May.  They would help to retake the Philippines beginning in October.New%20Guinea%20Map2[1]

Today many think of the war against the Japanese as a naval war. Naval battles did take place throughout the Pacific. Ships of the U.S. Navy also delivered the men and equipment to the far-flung islands. Once on land the U.S. Army did as much of the fighting as the Marines. The war against the Japanese was divided into two separate commands. The Pacific Ocean Area Command under Admiral Chester Nimitz included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands. In the Southwest Pacific Theater General Douglas McArthur commanded an area that included the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo and the western portion of the Solomon Islands.

In looking at the map I am amazed at how close the Japanese came to invading Australia. In June, 1944, the Japanese still controlled vast reaches of the Pacific as well as territory on the Asian mainland. The U. S. had pushed them off Guadalcanal in 1942-43 and in joint operations with the British fought for control of New Guinea throughout 1944 allowing McArthur to return to the Philippines in October 1944.

While the Allies were battling to hold the beachhead in Normandy, the U. S. Navy took on the Japanese in the battle of Saipan on June 15, 1944. Then from June 19-21 the Battle of the Philippine Sea raged.

In Italy, the liberation of Rome came on June 5, 1944, after a long, drawn out fight up the boot of Italy. Despite the surrender by the Italians in 1943, the Germans would not relinquish their hold on Italy. After the initial Allied landings on the Italian peninsula at Salerno in September 9, 1943 the Allies fought their way north. With a second landing further north at Anzio in January 22, 1944, the Allies hoped to cut off the Germans. Instead they dug in to the mountainous terrain. The battle around Monte Cassino raged from January until mid-May. When it finally fell the road to Rome opened to the allied advance with its liberation on June 5, 1944. But capturing the Italian capital did not mean the Germans would surrender. The fight in Italy raged on as the Germans pulled back into the mountains. They fought ferociously and did not surrender to the Allies until April, 1945.

On June 9 Stalin launched an attack on Finland. On June 10 in Oradour-sur-Glane the Germans locked 642 French men, women and children in a church and burned it to the ground in retaliation for resistance activities in the area. On the same day in Distomo, Greece, members of the Waffen-SS killed 214 civilians for the same reason. On June 20 in India the three-month siege of Imphal is lifted forcing the Japanese to retreat into Burma. The heavy losses of this defeat marked the turning point of the Burma campaign.

As you can see, in June 1944 war raged around the world. It would take another year of hard fighting before the Germans and the Japanese were defeated and peace returned to our planet.