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Remembering the Forgotten

Updated: Nov 9, 2023


This weekend marks Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

As people take a moment to remember past conflicts some battles, such as the D-Day Landings, Midway and the Battle of Britian, will loom large in people’s minds. But all too many battles and the heroics of those who fought in them have become forgotten.

I asked members of the Young Historians Program and the D-Day Squadron team to write about which Second World War battle they believed has become the least remembered and think we should make a special effort to recollect this Veterans and Remembrance Day.


 

Kevin Carter, Young Historians Program | USA Lead

The Battle of Attu, Alaska, May 1943



Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Caption: U.S. soldiers fire mortar shells over a ridge onto a Japanese position on 4 June 1943

 

The Aleutian Islands, a remote archipelago in Alaska, bore witness to a little-known but critical theater of World War II. In June of 1942, the islands of Attu and Kiska fell under Japanese attack and occupation. After close to a year under Japanese control, U.S. forces launched an assault to reclaim Attu Island in May of 1943. The campaign was slowed by harsh weather, treacherous terrain, and a fiercely determined Japanese defense. The battle ultimately ended with the complete recapture of Attu, but at a heavy cost with both sides suffering significant casualties. In August of 1943 and about 200 miles away from Attu, U.S. forces prepared for an invasion of Kiska that started with three weeks of intense bombardment fearing a repeat of the fierce resistance faced on Attu. Much to the shock of the landing troops, the Japanese were nowhere to be found. Having withdrawn on July 29th under the cover of darkness and heavy fog, it left the island free of any defenders. The Allied forces searched for 8 days to no avail, the only casualties coming from a couple occurrences of friendly fire, Japanese booby traps, and the inclement weather. The battles for Attu and Kiska are largely forgotten even though they remain the only battles of the Second World War to be fought on American Soil.


 

Henry Simpson, Young Historians Program | European Lead

The Battle of Habbaniya, Iraq, May 1941


Photo Credit: IWM CM 812

Caption: An RAF officer investigates wrecked artillery belonging to Iraqi rebels who besieged the RAF station at Habbaniyah, Iraq, in May 1941 and who were subsequently attacked by RAF bombers.


 

In May 1941 pro-axis nationalists seized control of Iraq and the Iraqi army laid siege to the RAF base at Habbaniya with around 9,000 troops complete with artillery and armoured cars. The battle began on May 2nd and lasted until May 6th, with the majority of the defending RAF force consisting of No.4 Flying Training School and its mostly student pilots operating around 60 obsolete aircraft, alongside a battalion of the Kings Own Royal Regiment and a small armoured car company.

Along with the Iraqi ground forces, they were engaged by the better equipped Iraqi Air Force with the base and airfield subject to constant shelling, machine gun fire and air attack throughout that period. After 5 days under constant attack the school’s aircraft had performed an estimated 700 sorties, with the loss of 13 killed and 21 too wounded to fly and almost every airman suffering some kind of injury. But these actions had led to the rout of the Iraqi army, the essential destruction of its air force and the loss of most of its equipment in an astounding against the odds victory. The defence of Habbaniya maintained the allied foothold in Iraq and with the arrival of British reinforcements the Axis government, which by that time had Luftwaffe air support, would be toppled by the end of the month. Habbaniya is one of the greatest and most forgotten battles of WW2, it was vital in securing the oil fields that would allow allied victory in North Africa, but it is not simply forgotten today, even at the time, despite the dramatic heroism of those involved, no awards or recognition were given to the defenders.




Photo Credit: Frank Webb via RAF Habbaniya Association

Caption: Hawker Audax over Iraq


 

Autumn Hendrickson, Young Historians Program Member

The Battle of Eniwetok, The Marshall Islands, February 1944




Photo Credit: Naval History and Heritage Command

Caption: Marines and Coast Guardsmen proudly display a Japanese flag, picked up by one of them during the capture of Engebi Island, Eniwetok Atoll, 19 February 1944.



 

In general, the Pacific theater of World War II contains some of the most overlooked battles just because of the vast span of ocean that fighting took place across. The Battle of Eniwetok, which took place from February 17-23, 1944 on Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands is one such battle. The 22nd Marine Regiment was responsible for most of the fighting here, and they paid the price for it. In fact, one single company from the 22nd Marines ended up losing 20 men in the course of those 6 days of fighting. The fighting on Eniwetok was particularly interesting because it actually involved three different landings on Engebi Island, Eniwetok itself, and Parry Island.


 

Michael Naya, Jr. Young Historians Program Founding Member

The Battle of Crete, Greece, May 1941



Photo Credit: IWM

Caption: German mountain troops of the 5th Gebirgs-Division boarding a Junkers 52 at a Greek airfield, before flying to Crete, 20 May 1941. On that morning 3000 German paratroops landed at Maleme, Rethymno, Chania and Heraklion.


 

Although the Battle of Crete has been extensively studied by historians throughout the world it seems that it has often been forgotten by American historians. America, not yet in World War II, was still in a state of isolation. The concerns of those across the seas was on the minds of many Americans however, the battle was not theirs and as a result little attention would have been made by much of the American public. Meanwhile the morning of May 20, 1941, began differently for those living and stationed in Crete, Greece. Surprisingly, German Fallschirmjager troops appeared from the skies. This was the first primarily airborne invasion launched by German troops and as a result took many by surprise. Within two weeks the Allied troops stationed there had been pushed back and the Germans were victorious. Although the Germans were our opponents the Allies were inspired by the capabilities and potential of paratroopers. The Germans would later see such tactics used against them such as in Market Garden, Normandy, and Operation Varsity. Though the Germans were victorious for the Battle of Crete the paratroopers of the Allied forces would later contribute to their downfall.



 

Bryan Fusfield, D-Day Squadron Global Media Manager

The Battle of Markham Valley, New Guinea, September 1943



Photo Credit: Warfare History Network

Caption: Paratroopers of the 503rd jump from their C-47s over the Markham Valley in 1943

 

When we reminisce about Airborne operations of WWII, visions of paratroopers departing their C-47s over the lush, green hedgerows and farms of France and Northern Europe often come to mind. But what about the Airborne operations of the brutal Pacific Theater? Frequently overlooked and under-studied, a great deal of heroism, sacrifice, and combat effectiveness can be found when studying the first Allied combat jump in the PTO: the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and the Battle for Markham Valley in September 1943. The first Allied Parachute Regiment to see a combat jump in the PTO, the 503rd dropped three battalions over the Markham Valley, New Guinea, on September 5th, 1943, where they would undergo jungle warfare operations alongside the Australian Army’s 7th Division. The drop was unopposed but marked a crucial milestone in the Allied island-hopping campaign while dislodging the Japanese stronghold at Lae. Additionally, and most importantly, the jump on Markham Valley proved the concept of vertical envelopment on an unsuspecting enemy to be valid and effective. Following the extensive casualties seen in the Airborne invasions of Sicily in July 1943, the entire concept was at risk of abandonment prior to the success of the 503rd in September 1943. The successful landings in New Guinea would soon support the use of Airborne forces in the invasion of France. The forgotten nature of this battle underscores the vast and intricate tapestry of World War II, with many lesser known but pivotal engagements contributing to the ultimate Allied victory in the Pacific.




Photo Credit: Warfare History Network

Caption: Engineers labor to make the airstrip at Nadzab operational. One C-47 transport has already landed while a second plane appears to be circling or preparing to make its approach to the field.


 
It has never been more important to remember, so please take a moment to think of those who fought in these “forgotten” battles this weekend.



Photo Credit: Cpl Dave Blackburn

Caption: The wreath laid by Group Captain Matt Radnall at the Remembrance Service in Bury St Edmunds. Station Commander of RAF Honington, Group Captain Matt Radnall took part in a small ceremony in Bury St Edmunds today whereby bugler Mr. Chris Beard of the RAF Honington Voluntary Band played the last post.


Perhaps you think there is another battle that has become forgotten, or its significance underappreciated? Feel free to email outreach@ddaysquadron.org with your thoughts.



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