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david leigh-smith
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On This Day…June 1st

A series of well photographed Emil Bf 109E3 of 4.JG26.

‘W3+-‘ (WNr 779) was force landed in France on 1st June 1940. Pretty clear a lot of the infantry were intrigued and excited at the find.

The ‘selfie generation was alive and well almost eighty years ago.

Landing Craft assault practice, Weymouth, South coast of England on June 1st 1945.

Bir Hakeim (Old Man's Well) was a fiercely contested fortress on the Libyan/Egyptian boarder. In summer of 1942 it was held by mainly French Free Fighters and Legionnaires, British, and ‘Commonwealth' forces. Close to Gazala (featured frequently in ‘OTD...') it held important strategic value.

The French in particular, gained a well-earned reputation as fearsome and brilliantly skilful fighters. Susan Travers (the only woman ever to serve in the French Foreign Legion) was assigned as driver to French commander, General Koenig. Here, she gives a remarkable account of the fighting at Ben Hakeim. The last sentence captures a theme expressed multiple times in many ways throughout this year long thread of ‘On This Day...'

“On 1st June the enemy offensive resumed in earnest, with dive-bombers, and Rommel's Panzer Mark IVs bearing down on Bir Hakeim from the north-west.”

“We gave as good as we got, firing back with our 75 mm guns and our anti-aircraft weapons. Even the mighty 40 mm Bofors guns were put to good use, despite the fact that the poor English operators were still waiting for official instructions on how to use them.”

“I shall never forget the insistent roll of gunfire on the horizon as I dug the general's car out of the sand with my hands and started it to make sure it still worked after so many days of standing idle. It did and I was hugely relieved. My small role in the daily madness had been fulfilled.”

“The German and Italian losses were great in those early days, with legionnaires and colonials attacking their tanks with grenades and Molotov cocktails. Men would stumble from their burning vehicles in flames, desperately rolling in the sand. The suffering was appalling, and as all of us had the most enormous respect for those we were fighting we found it very difficult to watch helplessly.”

“Rommel was legend enough; his Afrika Korps had an almost mythical status. The Italians, too, were considered fearless and energetic although they had the poorest equipment. There was never any sense of satisfaction in watching others die; just sadness at the lunacy which had brought us all to this oven of a place.”

USS Yorktown (CV-10) on NorLant cruise, 1st of June, 1969.

bomber over Dunkirk, June 1st, 1940.

Not something you see every day, Jugs on a Carrier.

P-47D Thunderbolts of the 318th Fighter Group are loaded onto Escort Carrier USS Natoma Bay (CV-62) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, June 1, 1944.

The Fighter Group was on its way to Saipan in the Marianas. Note USS Manila Bay, which carried the remainder of the 318th's Thunderbolts.

The men of US 3rd Marine Division preparing to load a round into their M101 105mm howitzer, Vietnam, 1 Jun 1968.

Below, master scratchbuilder and iModeler Derek Matile's beautifully built M101...


Another Emil force landed in France. Close-up of Bf 109E3N of 6.JG26 (Yellow 12+-) France 1st June 1940.

USS (CA-70) near San Diego, California, United States, 1st of June, 1967.

June 1st 1945 was ‘Black Friday' for three 20th AAF Fighter Groups, the 15th, 21st and 506th all based on Iwo Jima.

The pilots of the 506th FG were briefed for a Very Long Range bomber escort mission (VLR) to Japan; 148 P-51s were to protect a force of 400 B-29s in an incendiary bombing raid on Osaka. The Mustangs were to meet up with a flight of navigational guidance planes which would lead them to the rendezvous point with the bomber force off the Japanese coast (single-seat fighters didn't have the navigation equipment to make sustained flights over seas).

Almost 400 miles out from Iwo Jima the Mustangs encountered a huge weather front that one pilot estimated extended up to 70,000 feet (several pilots reported trying, but being unable to get above the weather. The fighter pilots had a difficult choice; negotiate the front or turn back and leave the bomber force unescorted.

The commander of the fighter force ordered to proceed with the mission, and led by their B-29 guides, the P51s plunged into the heart of torrential rain and turbulence.

Within seconds, there was chaos. formations became hopelessly broken up and lost in the non-existent visibility and disorientating turbulence. Collisions and near misses took place and one Mustang flight leader was heard on the radio... "If your wingman bumps into me again I am going to shoot him down."

Squadron leaders, faced with a hopeless situation, began to order their pilots to turn back for Iwo Jima.

Only a small fraction of the B-29s made it to the target, accompanied by a handful of the P-51s.

Lt Lawrence Grennan (44-72552, below) of the 457th recalled;

“Once airborne I noticed my oil pressure was high. I thought the gauge was defective. We entered the storm front. After about the fourth turn, my wing man disappeared and was never seen again.”

“Alone, I climbed what I felt was through the front. After 5 minutes I didn't see any other planes, so I decided to head for home. Rather than going through the front again, I went down on the water. Several other planes joined me, planes from different groups.”

“My engine began to act up, gained altitude so I could bail if necessary. Ten miles out it quit. Called May Day, put my flaps down, trimmed for the glide and rolled out on the wing at 5,000 feet. Was really worried about hitting the tail on the roll out. God, how I hated leaving that plane. The sea was relatively calm, inflated my raft, climbed into it, paddled around spreading dye.”

“Several B-29's called in my position. It wasn't long before a beautiful Navy Ship picked me up. Our people on Iwo were in shock from the loss of so many wonderful pilots, and how avoidable it all was.”

In total, twenty-seven Mustangs and twenty-five pilots were lost on this day, none to enemy fire. It is believed to be the biggest single day loss of Mustangs in WW2, including the Europe Theatre of Operations.

Among the missing pilots was the CO of the 506th Fighter Group, Lt-Col. Harvey Scandrett (above, right), leader of the escort force who gave the order to continue the mission as the escorts hit the weather front.

And on this day, June first, in 1995, my second son was born. I'll be with him later on this important day, sharing time with his own daughter who is now six months old. Here he is sharing a moment with a father with a full head of dark hair. Damn.

Happy birthday, Culley.

Reader reactions:
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20 responses

  1. Great pics as usual, David. I had hair in 1995 too! I never knew about the Iwo Jima Mustangs losses to that weather front.

    • Thanks, John. Ah, I still have most of the hair, but now it’s every bit as white as my son’s was in that photo.

      I never knew about the June 1st storm before today, one of the reasons I enjoy keeping this journal. A devastating loss for the squadrons, and highlights the knife edge that commanders’ decisions were made on in those times.

      • A few years back, there was a presentation at Planes of Fame on the 506th FG and two of the survivors of that storm were there. Amazing. My most terrifying experience flying was getting caught in a thunder cell; closest I've come to getting killed, and a miracle I wasn't. Doing that with a formation of airplanes close together would really be bad.

        • Tom, for me, the main issue of this story is how we make decisions. Scandrett could have called the mission (not saying at all he was to blame) and on such choices men live or die. We are all tied together somehow.

          • that was typhoon connie...remember i told you about halsey sailing into a second typhoon after cobra dave a week ago...3rd fleet lost 150 more aircraft in that one

          • As Bob points out, this was Halsey's Typhoon #2. He and J.S. McCain Sr. tried to lay it off on RADM J.J. Clark, who disobeyed orders and had his ships turn into the wind, thereby saving them. A court of inquiry was called. Clark's flag lieutenant, a NY lawyer named Barney Rosenberg, defended his boss. He cross examined Halsey within an inch of his life, with the result that Nimitz wrote Halsey a letter that has never been made public. Halsey was allowed to continue as ComThirdFleet and McCain as CTF 38, but only because Nimitz didn't want bad publicity for the Navy and knew the two of them would be on the beach by mid-August, with the reliable Spruance and Mitscher in charge of the invasion that fall.

            Observing the court of inquiry was a staff officer named Herman Wouk, who later based the Court-Martial in his novel The Caine Mutiny on this court, and his character lawyer Barney Rosenberg on the real guy, with the cross-examination of Halsey forming the basis for the cross-examination of Captain Queeg.

  2. Well ... another fine OTD, David!

    Some people lose their hair. If they really want to find it, all they have to do is look on their hair brush ... it isn't REALLY lost! Fortunately ... of all the health issues I have, hair loss isn't one of them. Off course, I shed hair like a chihuahua, but it seems to grow back.

    Those sure are some tow-headed kids, Doc! (tow-headed is old American slang for that blonde hair that is so light coloured it's almost white)

  3. Hummm, that first Emil begs for a diorama, if only I had Verlinden or Aires engine set... saving it for a future project for sure. Madam Wham-Dam also looks good. Speaking of looking good, not about the authors dark hair but rather Vogue magazine and pose for fashion even in wartime

    • The Emil would be a classic dio. Shows that even in war, there’s time for silliness. Regarding the Vogue cover, I must have had a harder week than I thought, it’s actually JULY 1st, ‘41.

  4. Great OTD David, really liked the part about you, your son and granddaughter.
    BTW on June 1, 1974 I still had a full head of hair however by June 1 1978 the damage was complete. Oh well, at least I’ve got the gorilla look going on everywhere else... yikes

  5. Much appreciated, Rick. We need to change your username to @silverback...

  6. Some interesting stories here, David. Beautiful family!

  7. Another home run... @dirtylittlefokker

    my favorite is the "Viking stock" family photo... They grow up way too fast don't they ? My hair was totally blonde at that early age too. (as was my daughter's). Then it became dark brown, and now it's getting light again... more like a gray instead of blonde ! 🙂

    • Here’s the ‘tow haired kid’ now. Things go round full circle; we’ve been here before and will be here some form.

      Had a great night. Modeling tomorrow, see you then.

  8. Ah, yes a little brevity at the end. You don't know what risk taking is until you had a child. If your going to leave a foot print in the sand of time a little kindness and decency passed on to the next generation goes along way. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree if you've taught them well it becomes second nature and the grand kids get all the benefits...

  9. Congratulations Grandad!
    I bet you've earned that white hair over the years though.
    Particularly liked the Mustangs difficult choice for the commander he didn't wan't to leave the bombers on their own.
    Damned if he did and damned if he didn't...
    Best wishes to all the LeighSmith clan...old and new.

  10. A great post, David, especially about Bir Hakeim. I knew Koenig rang a bell: He was the French general who allowed--in the wake of that battle and for conspicuous service--a battalion of Palestinian Jews (minelayers) to fly the Star of David flag during a recognition ceremony. The account you relate here is simply stunning, and a tribute to the Fighting Free French that needs to be told.

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