The Battle of Tarawa

In the interest of not reverting to the days when my average post was 1,500 words, this post will only include select information. Those who want greater details can check out the sources listed at the end.

My generous thanks to the USMC for putting such wonderful historical monographs online for free!

The Battle of Tarawa was fought from 20–23 November 1943 at Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. It was part of Operation Galvanic, the U.S. invasion of the Gilberts. This was the first U.S. offensive in the crucial central Pacific region, and the first time U.S. forces faced significant opposition to an amphibious landing.

In comparison to previous landings, this time the Japanese put up a major fight. There were 18,000 Marines and 17,000 soldiers from the Army’s 27th Infantry Division against 5,000 Japanese Naval defenders. Within 76 hours, the U.S. losses were as high as those from the six months of the Guadalcanal Campaign.

The Japanese spent almost a year fortifying Tarawa, right up till the day of the invasion. Rear Admiral Keiji Shibazaki encouraged his troops by saying, “It would take one million men one hundred years” to take Tarawa.

The Marines made a disastrously miscalculated decision about landing time, rejecting the advice of a New Zealand liaison officer who tried to tell them the tide was all wrong.

The Marines found themselves in neap tide. The water wasn’t high enough for their Higgins boats to clear the reef. Only LVT Alligators were able to clear it.

The Marines had to go the rest of the way on foot through the water. During the lull in the Naval bombardment, the surviving Japanese had gotten back into position and now began firing without stop. Many Marines were dead before they reached shore.

Many LVTs were also taken out of battle. Their hulls weren’t armored, thus making them vulnerable.

With the LVTs unable to clear the sea wall, the first landing wave of Marines were stranded. Most of the remaining LVTs who tried to rescue them were too badly damaged to stay afloat. These Marines remained stuck on the reef 500 yards from shore.

By the end of the first day, half of the LVTs were unusable.

One disaster followed another over the next few days. The Marines who got past the first deadly volley and the underwater tank traps and mines had to contend with wet, heavy, slippery sand, log barricades, and barbed wire traps.

Commanding officer, Col. David Shoup, took schrapnel in the leg and a grazing wound on the neck, but continued leading his men.

The first afternoon, Admiral Shibazaki and his forces were caught walking around in the open. The Marine who spied them communicated with the Navy, who launched a barrage of shells from two nearby destroyers. This prevented another brutal wave of carnage overnight.

Many Marines in the landing wave on the second morning were also shot down, but there was more Naval reinforcement. High casualties continued, but U.S. forces began gaining a toehold of that tiny atoll.

Some Marines moved to Bairiki, the next islet over, where more Japanese were amassing across the sandbars.

Col. Shoup was relieved by Col. Merritt A. Edson, the 2nd Marines’ Chief of Staff, but stayed on as an assistant.

Copyright USMC Archives; Source

After 76 hours of intense fighting and much bloodshed, Tarawa was cleared of Japanese. Only one Japanese officer and 16 enlisted men surrendered. All the others were either killed or chose suicide. Afterwards, the surviving Marines island-hopped to root out any remaining resistance in the vicinity.

During this operation, a force of 175 Japanese Naval infantry on Buariki launched one last stand on 27 November. This battle was over by the end of the day, and all the Gilberts were in U.S. hands.

The heavy U.S. casualties and botched landing sparked much outcry and public protests.

My characters Patya Siyanchuk and Rodya Duranichev are with the 6th Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa. Though Rodya is terrified the entire time, and knows he’s a very unlikely Marine, he holds his own well in battle.

While they’re helping to bury the dead afterwards, Rodya finds a dead Japanese who’s not as disfigured or putrid as the other corpses. He takes three beckoning cats, an omamori, a photograph, and a letter as souvenirs.

These personal objects are meant to show the common humanity of the other side.

Further reading:

Tarawa:  The Incredible Story of One of World War II’s Bloodiest Battles, Robert Sherrod

http://tarawaontheweb.org/

http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_tarawa.html

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/tarawa.htm

http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/jp-betio-island/index.html

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Tarawa/

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-C-Tarawa/index.html

http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/slugging-it-out-in-tarawa-lagoon/

http://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Tarawa-Captured-by-Allies-in-1943

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/spotlight7_tarawa.htm

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The Battle of Saipan

In the interest of not reverting to the days when my average post was 1,500 words, this post will only include select information. Those who want greater details can check out the sources listed at the end.

My generous thanks to the USMC for putting such wonderful historical monographs online for free!

The Battle of Saipan lasted from 15 June–9 July 1944 on the island of Saipan, part of the Marianas. It was nicknamed Death Valley, Hell’s Pocket, and Purple Heart Ridge due to the intense fighting and high casualties.

Over the three weeks and three days of battle, 71,000 Marines and members of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division faced off against 32,000 soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. Navajo code-talkers prevented disasters during several key moments.

A preliminary bombardment began 13 June, from fifteen battleships. The landings began at 7:00 AM on 15 June. Unlike the disastrous landing by Tarawa in November 1943, this time there was no neap tide stranding Marines on a reef or forcing them to go the rest of the way on foot through the water.

Some Marines, however, landed at the wrong place, due to the LVT drivers not heeding their pleas to bear to the right. The drivers had swerved north to avoid a violent strafing attack, but that didn’t take them to their planned disembarkation point.

About twenty LVTs were destroyed, and casualties were high as Marines encountered traps of barbed wire, trenches, mines, pillboxes, and combatants hiding in the underbrush. Prior to the landing, they were issued pamphlets explaining what to expect, and the signs of booby traps and mines.

During that brutal first day, a mortar landed on the 2nd Regiment’s command post and wounded their new commander, Major Howard Rice, who’d just taken over from the also-wounded Lt. Col. Raymond Murray.

By the first nightfall, the 2nd and 4th Marines had taken a beachhead six miles (ten kilometers) wide and 0.5 miles (one kilometer) deep. The Japanese attacked again that night, but the Marines put up an intense counterattack and repulsed them.

The bugler who’d sounded the alarm of the night attack was killed by a bullet going up his instrument’s windpipe.

The Imperial Japanese Navy bit off more than they could chew by deciding to attack the nearby U.S. Navy ships too. This new, independent Battle of the Philippine Sea crushed much of their naval strength.

Having lost all hope of reinforcements and resupply, the cards were decisively cast for U.S. victory, but the Japanese were determined to fight to the last man, woman, and child.

After Lt. Gen. Yoshitsugu Saito ordered a suicidal banzai charge, it became impossible for the Marines to distinguish civilians from soldiers.

At dawn on 7 July, the banzai charge began. Behind the remaining 3,000 able-bodied soldiers were the wounded. This attack almost destroyed the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment, but they refused to retreat. Many other Marines also fought back.

Saipan was officially secured by 4:15 PM on 9 July. Human costs were high, as 22,000 of the almost 30,000 Japanese dead were civilians. On the U.S. side, over 10,000 were wounded and over 3,000 killed.

My characters Patya Siyanchuk and Rodya Duranichev serve with the 6th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division at Saipan. Once again, Rodya is terrified, but determined to prove himself as a real Marine who doesn’t need his best friend constantly protecting him.

The second morning, Rodya investigates a suspicious noise, and ends up attacked by a Japanese. Patya has to come to his rescue yet again, and Rodya feels like an unmanly failure.

On their way to the medic, Patya is wounded by a rifle grenade. Now it’s up to Rodya to find the attackers and prove his mettle as a Marine, in spite of a seriously wounded shoulder.

Further reading:

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/ref/Saipan-HB/index.html

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Saipan/index.html

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-C-Saipan/index.html

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/spotlight7_saipan.htm

Riverdale, Toronto

Aerial shot of Riverdale, 31 December 1941

Riverdale is a large neighbourhood of Toronto. Its boundaries are Lake Shore Blvd. (south), the Don River Valley (west), Greektown and Danforth Ave. (north), and the Jones Ave. section of the Canadian National Railway and GO Transit tracks in Leslieville (east).

It was annexed to Toronto in 1884, and has long been known as very multicultural. This was a neighbourhood many immigrants came to—Irish, Greek, Russian, Italian, German, Polish, Finnish, Ukrainian, British, Chinese.

Many Riverdale houses are Victorian and Edwardian, having started life as boarding houses for the proletariat in the 19th century. Sadly, since gentrification has struck, many long-time residents have been priced out and replaced by hipsters and the bourgeoisie.

Lower Riverdale contains the neighbourhood’s six original houses on the west end of Simpson Ave. They’re known as The Six Sisters.

29 July 1931, looking north on Carlaw Ave. at Gerrard St.

18 October 1912, Danforth Ave. at Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.), looking west

7 July 1913, northwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.)

Riverdale contains many sub-neighbourhoods:

Lower Riverdale (the oldest section, with many original houses)
Upper Riverdale (most likely to have modern, renovated houses)
East Chinatown (Toronto’s next-largest Chinatown)
Badgerow (contains a Sikh temple, the legendary Maple Leaf tavern, a Jewish cemetery, Gerrard Square’s shopping mall, and a Turkish cultural centre)
Studio District (southern area of South Riverdale, with many vintage Victorian houses; a major film, TV, and arts district)
Riverside (a.k.a. Queen Broadview Village) (in South Riverdale, with many historic buildings and cultural landmarks; now undergoing gentrification and becoming known as a district of restaurants, food and furniture retailers, and independent designers)
Blake-Jones (houses built from the 1870s–1930s, rather affordable but seeing an uptick in crime and unemployment)
The Pocket (located within Blake-Jones; said to feel like a village, and undergoing more gentrification)

29 February 1932, Danforth Ave. at Logan Ave., looking east

1 January 1930, southwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Logan Ave., Tony Greco and mother’s fruit stand

Riverdale contains many schools, including Riverdale Collegiate Institute, a high school founded in 1907 as Riverdale Technical School. Another historic school is Holy Name Catholic School, founded in 1913 by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Parks include Withrow Park (with an ice rink, soccer field, and two baseball diamonds); Riverdale Park (with a running track, ice rink, swimming pool, three baseball diamonds, and tennis courts); Jimmy Simpson Park (with a community centre and tennis courts); the Royal Canadian Curling Club; Hubbard Park; and Kempton Howard Park (formerly East View Park).

Riverdale Park, looking south, Copyright Inkey

Detail of reconstructed Broadview Hotel, Copyright JasonParis; Source

Broadview Hotel in 1945

Other landmarks include The Opera House (opened 1909); Bridgepoint Health (founded 1875 and  going through many names); the Ralph Thornton Community Centre (opened 1913); Don Jail (opened 1864); the Cranfield House (built 1902); and St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

Don Jail, Copyright Nadiatalent

My characters Lena Yeltsina and Antonina Petrova settle in Riverdale with their newfound surrogate mother Sonya Gorbachëva when they escape Russia in 1920. Lena is soon reunited with her young son Yuriy, who’s been languishing in a Manhattan orphanage, and takes him back to Toronto under the ruse of Sonya being the mother.

In 1921, Lena’s little sister Natalya comes to America, and joins her in Canada as soon as possible. When their mother and two much-older sisters arrive in New York in January 1924, Lena explains their life is in Canada now, and that after so many years of separation, Natalya doesn’t know them.

Lena and Natalya stay in close touch with their mother and older sisters, and create a very happy life in Toronto. In 1927, they’re joined by Sonya’s niece, Naina Yezhova, and her best friend Katya Chernomyrdina, the daughter of Sonya’s own best friend.

Queens Village and the qalam

Copyright Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York; Source

Queens Village is a very spacious, green, suburban neighborhood in eastern Queens. It started life as Little Plains in the 1640s, and then became known as Brushville in the 1820s, after prosperous resident Thomas Brush.

Mr. Brush put down roots in the neighborhood with a blacksmith shop in 1824, and after achieving great financial success, he built a factory and a few other shops.

The first railway came on 1 March 1837.

St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church

In 1856, residents voted to change the neighborhood’s name to Queens, but both the neighborhood and depot were called Inglewood and Queens during the 1860s and 1870s. The former name Brushville also continued to be used.

When the borough of Queens was incorporated into NYC in 1898, and Nassau County was created in 1899, the border between them was designated directly east of the neighborhood. By at least 1901, the name Queens Village had arisen.

The Long Island village of Lloyd Harbor, formerly in Queens County but now in Suffolk County, was called Queens Village from 1685–1883. In 1923, Long Island Railroad added “Village” to the Queens neighborhood’s station’s name to avoid confusion with Queens County as a whole.

193rd St. war memorial

Queens Village contains the sub-neighborhoods of Hollis Hills (a very wealthy area) and Bellaire (the largest section of the neighborhood).

Many people seeking a suburban lifestyle and fleeing the congestion of Manhattan came to Queens Village starting in the 1920s. A great many of the Tudor and Dutch Colonial homes built during this era still stand, and attract a new generation of people wanting a slower, less crowded lifestyle.

Queens Village LIRR Station, Copyright Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York; Source

Like many other NYC neighborhoods, Queens Village too once had a large, thriving Jewish community, but today the population mainly consists of African–Americans, Caribbeans, Guyanese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Jamaicans, and Hispanics.

Recent demographic developments include an increased amount of Asian–Americans and Middle Eastern Jews.

Southbound view of LIRR bridge over Springfield Blvd. and the Hempstead-bound platform at Queens Village station, Copyright DanTD

Landmarks include American Martyrs Catholic Church, Chapel of the Redeemer Lutheran, Hollis Hills Jewish Center, and the Windsor Park Branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. Nearby are Alley Pond Park, Cunningham Park, and Long Island Motor Parkway.

Remnant of Long Island Motor Parkway, Copyright Nowa at English Wikipedia

My characters Rodya Duranichev, Valentina Kuchma, Patya Siyanchuk, and Vladlena Zyuganova move from Manhattan to Queens Village with their children in the late summer of 1945. Both Valentina and Vladlena are expecting again, and they want a fresh new life in a more spacious corner of the city, with detached houses and yards.

Their children are delighted to discover each house has a pool in the backyard, though Patya is less than delighted to discover a little girl next door, Ruth Blumstein, thinks he’s a monster on account of his missing arm.

Copyright Aieman Khimji

qalam is a dried reed pen used for Islamic calligraphy, particularly creating those beautiful Persian and Arabic letters. It’s also a symbol of wisdom and education in the Koran. Sura 68 is called “Al-Qalam,” and describes Allah’s justice and the judgment day.

The etymology comes from the Greek kalamos (reed). In modern Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, and Turkish, it means “pencil” or “pen.” In Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, it just means “pen.”

Copyright Baba66

My character Inna Zhirinovskaya receives, among many other things, a qalam set in a leather case for her 31st birthday in October 1937, a present from her admirer Arkasha Orlov (a prince by birth). They met in Aden in June, and Arkasha has been hopelessly smitten since then.

Arkasha gave her a lesson in Persian writing with a normal fountain pen a few weeks earlier, and Inna was mortified when she involuntarily gasped at the sensation of his hand over hers. She knows both Arkasha and her little brother Vitya heard that.

That night on the Siosepel Bridge, Inna agrees to be his sweetheart.

Patriarch’s Pond

Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

Patriarch’s Pond (Patriarshiye Prudy, whose name truly translates to Patriarch’s Ponds), colloquially known as Patriki, is a wealthy downtown area of Moskva’s Presnenskiy (Presnya) District. It takes its name from the beautiful pond. There used to be three ponds (as evidenced by the name), but now there’s only one.

The current pond is 107,000 square feet (9,900 square meters), and six and a half feet (two meters) deep.

Copyright Табуретка (Taburyetka)

Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

The pond in turn takes its name from Patriarch Germogen (served 1606–12, at the end of the Smutnoye Vremya, Time of Troubles). Before this area became his residence, it was the Goat Marsh. Unsurprisingly, goats were bred nearby. Their wool went to the Imperial Court.

In 1683, Patriarch Yakim ordered the swamps replaced with three fish ponds. In the pond formed from the Presnya River, expensive fish for the Patriarch’s table were bred, while cheap fish were in the ponds from the Goat Marsh.

The ponds were abandoned during the Synodal period of 1700–1917, during which the election of a new Patriarch was forbidden.

Copyright Ksu25

The ponds took on their current form and were refurbished during 1830–31, during the massive rebuilding efforts necessitated by the devastating Fire of 1812. The gutted wooden buildings around the pond were replaced by stone.

Every winter since 1900, the Russian Gymnastic Society turns the frozen pond into a skating rink. At night, 16 floodlights illuminate it and project images of snowflakes and flowers onto the ice.

Copyright karel291

The pond was hurt again by the 1897 flood, and city officials considered abandoning it. Though it cost a lot of money to clean, the pond was saved and filled with fresh water.

In the early 20th century, cheap real estate sprung up around the pond, occupied by university students. During the failed 1905 revolution, it was occupied by left-wing student militia, and turned into a warzone.

Moskva’s first children’s hospital, Filatov, was also initially located here.

Copyright Elisa.rolle

Under Soviet rule, the beautiful apartments occupied by the wealthy were turned into communal apartments. The pond was also renamed Pioneer Ponds, though the new name never caught on. In 1992, the real name was officially restored.

Landmarks include the Gavriil Tarasov mansion; the House with Lions (the home of Red Army Marshals); a monument to fabulist Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (surrounded by twelve of his characters); and a stone pavilion.

House of Lions, Copyright NVO

Patriarch’s Pond famously features in the opening chapter of Mikhail Afanasiyevich Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov and his wife lived there in the 1930s, and today there’s a monument to him.

My characters Lyuba Zhukova and Ivan Konev skip gymnasium (high school) and spend the day by Patriarch’s Pond in April 1917, during their clandestine, month-long romance which forms the first “on” period of their on-again, off-again relationship.

Ivan dreamily tells her about the great life they’re going to have in America, and he shows off his rudimentary English. They also buy sweets from a vendor. In the unnaturally warm weather, they see a swan and her cignets, and compare themselves to swans mating for life.

The cover of my first Russian historical shows them by the banks of the pond. Initially, I wanted it to specifically show Ivan writing the English alphabet in the dirt.