Number of Soldiers: 550,000
Number of Fallen: 38,338
Number of Medal Holders: 49,315
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the United States Military was a small professional force of 175,000 people. After Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939, the new Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, decided to take immediate steps to prepare the Army for war. Among other things, he issued an order for modern tanks, such as the M3-Grant.
In 1940, Congress enacted, for the first time since the foundation of the United States, a (selective) peacetime conscription law, the “Selective Training and Service Act of 1940”. This Act made it possible to enlarge the Army up to about 1,400,000 people the following year. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on 7 December 1941, surprised the U.S.A. and caused it to join the war and with it to expand its armed forces more. In the course of the next 3 years 100 Divisions were established, which included 76 Infantry, 16 Armored, 5 Airborne and 2 Cavalry.
The U.S. Army acquired its first combat experience of the war in the Campaign in the Philippines early in 1942, which was also its first defeat. It went on the offensive for the first time in the Guadalcanal Campaign in August, 1942, and in North Africa (in Tunisia), against General Erwin Rommel, in November of that year. Later in the war, military activity was conducted in several campaigns concurrently: the Pacific Ocean, Europe and Southeast Asia. In summer, 1942, the fighting was focused on the Guadalcanal region, a Japanese base in the Solomon Islands that constituted a key area. Landings there were carried out on 7 August, and in the course of the next 8 months 10 land battles and 7 sea battles took place in the region.
In 1942, General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed Commander of the American Expeditionary Force for “Operation Torch” – the landing in North Africa – and later, Commander of the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy.
In 1944, he was appointed overall Commander of what was later called, “Operation Overlord”, the planned landing of the Allies in France. Eisenhower’s task was to organize an Expeditionary Force of one million fighters and 2 million support providers for the war in Europe.
The invasion plan, which was designed by U.S. and British combined General Staffs, included an assault on 5 beaches (code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah) west of the River Orne, near the city of Caen, by the British 2nd Army and the American First Army. In the second wave, the Canadian First Army and the American Third Army were activated, under the command of General George Patton.
On 6 June 1944, 2,727 ships and 156,000 soldiers were allocated for the landing in Normandy, and on the first day 75,000 of them landed on the 50 Kilometers long coast. This was the biggest combined operation to be achieved in the war until then.
The landing was successful, but on “Omaha” Beach the U.S. Army suffered 2,500 losses due to the tough German opposition.
The combined operation included landing 3 Airborne Divisions in the German rear in order to isolate the landing beaches from German reinforcement inland. Those were two American Divisions and one British. Of the 23,000 airborne troops, 15,000 were American. 6,000 airborne soldiers were killed in this operation. In the days that followed 156,215 Allied soldiers were landed on the beaches (and from the air). 10,300 persons were killed in the entire operation.
In 1944, the Americans developed the strategy of leapfrogging in the Pacific Ocean, that is, hopping from island to island and only landing on islands which will constitute key staging areas for the development of operations in the Theatre, while by-passing and not attacking islands that have been fortified by the Japanese. This conception prevented unnecessary battles and casualties.
On 20 October 1944, the American Sixth Army landed in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, and what developed there was the largest naval battle of the war. It was a decisive victory for the Allies, in which the Japanese Navy lost 4 Aircraft Carriers, 3 Battleships and 10 Cruisers. The Japanese also suffered 48,000 dead in this battle.
On 15 December, about two and a half years after it was expelled from there by the Japanese in disgrace, the American Army landed in the Philippines’ main island, Luzon. The Campaign in the Philippines, between MacArthur’s forces and the Commander of the Japanese defenses, Yamashita, was dogged and stubborn and lasted until the end of the war in 1945, with the U.S. Army unable to complete the conquest of this country.
The U.S. Army’s final act in the war transpired in the months of April-June, 1945, against the Japanese Army in Okinawa, which was captured after a fierce and bloody struggle.
15,100,000 persons served within the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces until the end of the year 1943. About 65 million men and women were occupied in professions needed for war effort.
Until the end of the war, 16.1 million people were enlisted, of whom 73% served overseas, 292,000 fell in battle, 114,000 were killed for other reasons, 701,000 were wounded and 124,079 were taken prisoners-of-war.
The United States – “Arsenal of the Allies”, from the mouth of Churchill – produced in the course of the war 84,027 tanks, 631,873 Jeeps, 129,255 fighter-planes, 80,930 other aircraft, 37,701,000 bombs, and about 12,300,000 rifles.
In the course of World War II, 550,000 Jews served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
40 of them reached the most senior command positions – 18 Generals, 6 Major Generals, 12 Brigadier Generals, 1 Admiral (4-Star), 2 Vice Admirals and one Commodore.
In the course of the war, 38,338 Jewish soldiers fell, of whom 11,000 fell in the battlefields and 7,000 during actual combat.
Jewish soldiers were awarded with 49,315 decorations and commendations.
3 were awarded with the highest decoration – the Congressional Medal of Honor (Ben Salomon, Isadore Jachman and Raymond Zussman).
66 were awarded with the Distinguished Service Cross
28 with the Navy Cross
41 with the Distinguished Service Medal
244 with the Legion of Merit
1,434 with the Silver Star
2,047 with the Distinguished Flying Cross
191 with the Soldier’s Medal
28 with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal
4,641 with the Bronze Star
13,212 with the Air Medal, and
14,550 were awarded with the Purple Heart.
26,000 were awarded with written Commendations.
The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF)
In 1940, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall decided to reorganize the Air Forces of the U.S. Army and to merge the Air Force, which was responsible for power build-up, with the Command of Air Operations, which was responsible for the Air Force’s performance, and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) was established, under the command of General Henry Arnold.
In 1941, 25,000 soldiers were serving in the USAAF and at its disposal were 4,000 airplanes. The aircraft included Seversky P-35’s, Curtiss P-36’s, Hudson Bombers, Douglas SBD-3’s and B-25 Mitchell’s.
This Arm suffered severely during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines on 7-8 December 1941. Just in Pearl Harbor alone, 178 fighter-planes were destroyed and another 159 seriously damaged, while 2,403 of the Arm’s soldiers were killed and 1,776 injured.
Aircraft production output increased dramatically after the U.S. entrance into the war. In 1942 alone, 10,769 fighter-planes and 12,627 bombers were produced. In the following year this number had already increased to 23,988 fighter-planes and 29,355 bombers. Peak production occurred in the year 1944, with 38,873 fighter-planes and 35,003 bombers.
Production included modern fighter-planes, such as the P-51 Mustang, the Grumman Hellcat, the Corsair and the P-47 Thunderbolt. There was also great progress in the production of bombers, such as the B-17 “Flying Fortress”, the B-24 Liberator and the B-29.
In February, 1942, the American Eighth Air Force under the command of General Carl Spaatz, which was stationed in Europe, joined the British Bomber Command in the strategic bombing assault on the German rear. With a focus on population centers and major cities, their aim was to break the enemy’s desire to fight.
In the framework of this offensive, operational activity was divided between the British Air-Force, which attacked at night, and the American, which attacked in broad daylight. Within this scope, a focused assault on Hamburg in August, 1943, caused the deaths of 50,000 German civilians.
Early in 1944, the P-51B Mustang airplane was brought into service in the U.S. Air-Force. This modern aircraft was capable of escorting bombers in long range missions to the heart of Nazi Germany. It was an extraordinary airplane that inflicted heavy casualties on the German Air-Force.
Another triumphant airplane was the Corsair, which managed to down 2,149 enemy aircraft in the course of 64,051 operational sorties during the war in Pacific Ocean Theatre. This represents the best downing ratio in the history of air warfare.
In advance of the landing operation in Normandy, the Air-Force was directed to focus on destroying the German transportation array leading to the designated landing scene, and parallel to that, to continue striking German industrial plants.
Towards the end of 1944, the Allies’ Air-Forces achieved complete air superiority in the sky over Germany and could destroy any target that was decided upon. In an aerial bombing waged on Berlin, on 3 February 1945, 25,000 people were killed.
With the intention of completely breaking Germany’s fighting spirit, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, Commander of the British Bomber Command, planned a focused assault on the German city of Dresden. On 13 February 1945, 773 British bombers attacked the city, and following those, 527 American bombers came striking. The result was a city destroyed and 135,000 dead.
In the Far East, Tokyo, the Capital of Japan, became the American Air-Force’s primary target. The first assaults began towards the end of 1944, when it was made possible to launch B-29 Bombers from bases in the Mariana Islands.
After the capture of Iwo Jima by the U.S. Army it became possible for the Air-Force to intensify its attacks on Japan. The large number of wooden houses in Japan caused enormous fire storms during the bombings. On 9-10 March 1945, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka and Yokohama were attacked. This assault shocked the whole of Japan, as it resulted in 260,000 dead and 9.2 million homeless.
In the summer of 1945, the Air-Force was ready to deliver its final assault on Japan. On 6 August 1945, a B-29 Bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, and following that one, another atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, on 9 August. On 10 August, Japan announced its surrender and the war came to an end.
At the height of its power in the war, the United States Army Air Forces comprised 75,000 aircraft and 2,411,294 soldiers. Its total number of casualties in the war was 115,382 dead, of whom 52,173 were air-crew members.
Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the principal intelligence organization in World War II and it operated on all fronts. It was the counterpart of the British Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI-6) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). This organization was established by a Presidential Military Order issued on 13 June 1942, and it operated until its abolition by a Presidential Executive Order issued on 20 September 1945. Its inception came about with President Roosevelt’s appointment of Major General William J. Donovan to a mission in Britain in July, 1940 (Donovan was one of the two most decorated American officers in World War II; the other was Douglas MacArthur.). His hosts there, the heads of the British Secret Services, acquainted him with their operations and enabled him to get an impression of Britain’s situation at the time. Upon his return, he recommended to the President that a central intelligence authority be established, which will coordinate the activities of all bodies who engaged in intelligence in the Army, the Navy, the State Department and more. The President accepted his recommendations and a year later appointed him Chief Coordinator of Information (COI) for the President, and as such, he became the main factor who concentrated the operations of the American intelligence elements and the cooperation with British Services that began to develop in those areas. In June, 1942, his office, Coordinator of Information, turned into the Office of Strategic Services, which later turned into the organization that preceded the Central Intelligence Agency of today, known as the CIA.
The organization engaged in information gathering, espionage, intelligence research, propaganda, subversion and guerilla warfare, and long-term planning (after the war). At its establishment it comprised several bodies, which engaged in clandestine intelligence gathering on the Axis countries and the territories they had occupied; counter-espionage, which followed other countries’ intelligence activities and examined, among other things, the fidelity of foreigners and refugees who were reaching the U.S.A.; research and analysis of information by a large team of experts, usually from academia, who processed the information and prepared reports and assessments in various strategic fields – political, economic, geographic, cultural – in a variety of subjects and concerning all Theatres of the war. In addition, the organization operated in the area of clandestine missions, which dealt with a diversified activity on the ground, such as sabotage, aiding underground organizations, raids and other special combat operations that were designed to assist the organization’s intelligence operations. All these were sustained by a system of technical support that was responsible for providing adequate solutions to missions and other special requirements of the organization’s operations in various fields, including communication, combat means, photography, caching, forging documents and more. The organization also engaged in developing ties of cooperation with intelligence services of other countries, interrogating prisoners of war, and liaisons with foreign elements. A considerable share of the organization’s manpower came from the ranks of the military.
The organization set up agencies abroad, of which the principal one was in London. Additional agencies were established in neutral countries in Europe, such as Switzerland and Sweden, and later in Algeria, Rome, Paris and other places after their liberation, eventually even in Berlin. The organization also operated in the Middle East, from stations in Cairo and Istanbul, and in Asia, from stations in Chongqing in China, in New Delhi and more.
The organization’s initial activities began in the North African Theatre towards the end of 1942, prior to the invasion of this area (Operation Torch), for the purpose of preparing the ground for this campaign. Later, the organization participated in the alignment of the strategic bombing on occupied Europe; in the Italian Campaign and in contacts with the Undergrounds that were operating in northern Italy and in the Balkans; in the preparations for the invasion of Normandy and in contacts with the French Résistance as well as with various opposition elements inside Germany, including the July 1944 conspirators; all this in full coordination with the parallel British bodies. The organization also operated in the Far East Front, aiding China, the Undergrounds in Southeast Asia – Thailand, Burma and Indo-China – here also in full cooperation with its British counterparts and allies. This organization, which at its peak numbered about 26 thousand people, was abolished at war’s end, as aforesaid, and the CIA was established in its place.
The Code Breakers
One of the lesser known Theatres of battle in any war, World War II included, is the scene of Signals Intelligence (contracted to SIGINT), which, by running certain technical means, collects information that is shifting through the communication and electronic system a foe operates. This is the “War of the Minds”, as it is commonly called, between the intelligence services and the foe’s various security elements. The foe’s security officers make every effort on their part to conceal and encrypt the contents of the voluminous and valued traffic that is being transmitted without a stop by various communication media of military and civilian state bodies, such as the diplomatic service, intelligence services, and so on. Opposite to those, intelligence services invest every possible effort as well in order to penetrate the circles of defense that have been placed for the purpose of protecting this precious information, and vice versa.
In the U.S.A., the code breaking office, known as The Cipher Bureau, was closed in 1929 by Secretary of State Stimson (who became Secretary of War during World War II). Parallel to that, the Army, which also engaged in this subject, decided to transfer responsibility for it from the Counterintelligence Corps to the Signal Corps, a move that led to the establishment, in 1939, of a body called the Signals Intelligence Service (SIS), headed by William Frederick Friedman, Jewish in origin.