The Centuryby Peter Jennings, Todd Brewster
In his last 40 years in journalism, Peter Jennings has covered many of the stories that have helped define the 20th century. Now he brings you The Century in its entirety. Painstakingly researched, filled with hundreds of intimate stories and moving photographs, The Century is a monumental portrait of a remarkable journey in history. See more details below
In his last 40 years in journalism, Peter Jennings has covered many of the stories that have helped define the 20th century. Now he brings you The Century in its entirety. Painstakingly researched, filled with hundreds of intimate stories and moving photographs, The Century is a monumental portrait of a remarkable journey in history.
The New York Times
--The New York Times Book Review
- Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.51(w) x 10.70(h) x 1.70(d)
Read an Excerpt
On the night of June 5, 1944, Americans tuned their radios to hear FDR announce that the Italian fascists had been deposed under the force of Allied troops. The Italian and African campaigns had always been sideshows to the war in Europe and Russia, but the fall of Italy was symbolic, the first of the Axis nations to surrender. In the Roman square where Il Duce had once whipped crowds into a frenzy, the celebration was enormous.
Roosevelt was happy over the news ("One up and two to go!" he said), but he was understandably preoccupied. For even as the president spoke, 175,000 young Allied soldiers (many of them teenagers about to witness their first days in combat) were pushing off from the coast of England toward France in the largest amphibious operation in the history of war.
Operation Overlord, as it was called, was a massive logistical challenge. Along with the enormous fighting force (which was scheduled to grow to 2.5 million before the invasion was completed), it involved moving 50,000 motorcycles, tanks, and bulldozers across sixty miles of open water, employing 5,333 ships and 11,000 airplanes. All told, the operation of D-Day (the "D" stood for nothing more than a reinforcement of the word "Day") was roughly comparable, historian Stephen Ambrose has written, to transporting the cities of Green Bay, Racine, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, across Lake Michigan -- every man, woman, child, car, and truck -- and doing it all in one night.
But it was the strategy, much more than the logistics, that was the gamble. An amphibious invasion is an inherently dubious idea; historically, most have failed. The landing army arrives on a fortified coastline withits back already pushed to the sea and until it can sufficiently secure the beachhead to allow for trucks and artillery to come ashore, the attackers must move about on foot, a disadvantage that is rarely overcome. With Operation Overlord, there was all this against the Allies and more: the untested citizen-soldiers, tens of thousands of young men barely out of boot camp. On the morning of June 6, 1944, no one knew if they were up to the job.
Touring the bases under clearing skies (a torrential rain had forced the postponement of D-Day by twenty-four hours), General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied troops, went down to a Portsmouth pier to see off British units boarding a landing craft. He said farewell to twenty-three thousand Allied paratroopers at Newbury, aware of predictions that as many as 75 percent of them would be casualties. Holding lucky coins he had saved from his successful invasions of North Africa and Sicily, he chatted with the men of the 101st Airborne. Then, after saluting the planes as they took off for France, the stiff-lipped Kansan who would later occupy the White House turned away in tears.
For most Americans, D-Day was the climax of the war. It was their war, the trucks and tanks and armored vehicles carrying the Allied soldiers having recently slid off the assembly lines in Michigan and Illinois; the bombers and fighters ready for takeoff having emerged from assembly plants dotted throughout Ohio, Oregon, and California; the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers having been hammered together at shipyards on both coasts. People cheered the news of the invasion, which they had eagerly awaited. Churches rang their bells, factories sounded their whistles. Then, just as suddenly, everyone huddled in fear for the fate of their young boys, whose lives hung in the balance. On the night of June 6, Roosevelt, who had been too sick to go to London and participate in the planning of D-Day, came on radio to do the only thing that he, or for that matter, any American could do--pray. But the comfort that prayer provided at this moment was undermined by the knowledge that the God they depended upon now was the same one who had tolerated the carnage of Europe and the awful slaughters in the Pacific.
Off the English Channel, thousands of terrified infantrymen from twelve Allied nations, many having already vomited their breakfasts, floated in flat-bottomed landing craft toward shore beaches code-named Sword, Juno, Omaha, Gold, and Utah. As the coastline grew near, appearing to them through thick gray fog, the soldiers, carrying seventy pounds of wet battle gear apiece, jumped neck-deep into the waters and waded ashore. Now the battle was theirs to win or lose, all theirs. The first units, taking advantage of the element of surprise (the Germans had predicted that the Allies would invade at Pas-de-Calais, the channel's narrowest point, and were thus underfortified at Normandy), made their way quickly into the farmland at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. But the Americans pushing in at Omaha were not so lucky. There, in the center of the front, soldiers walked into a wall of German gunfire and paid dearly for it. Attempting to scale a bluff well covered by German defenders, more than 2,000 GIs were killed or wounded. By nightfall they had secured it, and joined the 156,000 Allied men on their way to liberate France.
Despite its astonishing success, the invasion of Normandy was a messy affair. German mines (nicknamed "Bouncing Betties") made the waters treacherous, and red with blood. After penetrating the corpse-laden beaches, the soldiers ran into the Normandy bocage, a maze of hedgerows in which the Germans had stationed small groups of machine gunners, invisible to the Allies until they were virtually on top of them. Still the British and American losses were nowhere near those anticipated. The total number of casualties suffered in the operation's first day was under 5,000, considerably less than the 75,000 some planners had feared.
Around the beginning of July, the Allies had landed more than one million troops, 566,000 tons of supplies, and 171,000 vehicles. By August, they had freed Paris and turned east. But the Germans were not ready to give up. They mounted one last strike at the Allies through Belgium in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge (because it pushed a forty-five-mile-wide dent into Allied lines). When Eisenhower's forces broke that offensive, too, the march to the Rhine was easy.
By early 1945, the Nazi strategy had been reduced to the bizarre. In an attempt to stiffen German morale, the high command unveiled an epic movie on the resistance of a small German town to the invasion of Napoleon in 1807. Kolberg, which had been created at Goebbels's insistence, was a film with Hollywood flair. It included 187,000 soldiers, who had been borrowed from the front to serve as extras. And at a time when the rail lines were under seige, hundreds of train cars had been commandeered to transport salt to the set where it became the "snow" of winter scenery. Even the director was appalled at the excess. "Hitler and Goebbels must have been obsessed with the idea that a film like this could be more useful to them than even a victory in Russia," he said.
Hitler was surrounded, his nation rapidly disintegrating. From the East, the Russian army pushed through Poland (conveniently pausing outside Warsaw so that the Germans could finish off the city and make it easier for the Soviets to hold it in their palm after the war) and marched toward Berlin. From the West, the Allied forces moved deeper into Germany, their eyes on the Elbe River. His nation was a landscape of ruins: Dresden, Essen, Düsseldorf, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Hamburg, all reduced to rubble. Hitler retired to a concrete bunker at the center of the German capital, the only place where the myth of his destiny remained intact, and waited for a miracle.
The German leader first put his hopes in a home army composed of teenagers and old veterans -- the only men who had not yet been drafted; later in the death of Roosevelt on April 12, which he received as his last bit of good news. Perhaps now, he thought, his fortune will change, just as it changed for Frederick the Great in 1762 when his rival, Tsarista Elizabeth of Russia, died, shifting the momentum back toward the House of Brandenburg. But of course the transition to Harry Truman was smooth, and the Allies remained solid.
By April 30, even Hitler's fanatical optimism had failed him. After a quiet lunch of spaghetti and salad, the führer and Eva Braun (he had married Braun, his longtime mistress, only two days before) walked into his underground suite, closed the door, and proceeded to swallow lethal doses of cyanide. An aide, following Hitler's instructions, waited until the poison had taken effect and shot him once in the head (to be sure that he was dead), then helped carry the two bodies upstairs where they were laid side by side in a garden, soaked with gasoline, and set on fire. Shells from the guns of the invading Russian army were bursting around them while a small group of mourners stood and raised their arms in a final salute. Within days, the Germans had surrendered.
Crowds in Red Square, Times Square, Picadilly Circus, and along the Champs Èlysées erupted in celebration. But the news from Berlin failed to slow the pace of warfare on the other side of the globe where the savagery of the Pacific war had been becoming increasingly surreal.
When the Marines landed on Saipan in 1944 (the tiny island was strategically important because its airfields would put American B-29s within striking distance of Tokyo), they battled fiercely against the Japanese banzai attacks, losing more than sixteen thousand men, then encountered a surprise: wave upon wave of Japanese civilians coming at them in a suicidal orgy. While the conquering Americans assured the people from loudspeakers that they would be treated well as captives, mothers threw their children from the edge of cliffs and then jumped after them; others pulled the triggers on grenades, then hugged them close to their bodies.
Reclaiming Guam the same year, Marines encountered desperate enemy soldiers armed only with pitchforks and baseball bats, bottles and rocks. Some took sticks, attached knives to the ends of them, then came hurling at the Americans in an unrelenting suicidal barrage. And even after the island was securely in American hands, thousands of Japanese refused to capitulate, taking to the hills instead, where they continued to attack guerrilla style for months.
But the stories of the fighting at Peleliu (pronounced Pell-ee-loo) are surely among the most bizarre, and tragic. The island was considered a stepping-stone to the recapture of the Philippines and an easy one at that. Admiral Chester Nimitz expected the Marines to work for three or four days and encounter minimal casualties. In fact, the fighting would last for two months and end the lives of 1,262 Marines and nearly 10,000 Japanese.
A preinvasion bombardment was thought to have weeded out most enemy troops at Peleliu. But when the Marines hit the beaches on September 15, 1944 they discovered thousands of Japanese hiding in a series of interlocking caves. Safe from attack, the enemy troops then undertook a deadly game of hide and seek, popping open the camouflaged steel doors of the caves, firing at the Marines, then disappearing again into the earth. The terrain, too, proved an obstacle. The Americans had brought shovels with them to dig out their protection, but the island's tough coral surface was impossible to penetrate, forcing them to lie exposed to deadly accurate mortar and artillery fire, or to crouch behind their own dead. In the end, the Marines would need almost two months to root out the enemy, and only much later would they learn that the island fight had probably been unnecessary: the Philippines were in easy grasp whether they had Peleliu or not.
The battle for Okinawa had already begun when news of the end of the European war arrived. The island was a critical target for the Americans -- just 350 miles from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands, it was a natural step before the invasion of Japan itself. But a wave of suicide bombers, numbering in the thousands, was making it hard for the Americans. Off the coast of the island, a Japanese Zero crashed onto the flight deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Bunker Hill. Thirty seconds later, another kamikaze fell from the sky ripping a forty-foot hole in the side of the Bunker Hill. The Americans won at Okinawa (at a price of fifty thousand casualties) but the Japanese resolve showed no signs of easing.
By early summer 1945, the Japanese had just 800 functioning aircraft; the Americans, 22,000. American fliers were finishing the last of hundreds of firebombing sorties over Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Kawasaki, and Yokohama, obliterating every military target, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, too. Yet their devotion to Emperor Hirohito forced the people of Japan to fight on. Expecting an invasion force even larger than the one which hit the beaches of Normandy (in fact, fifteen divisions were in the blueprints for Operation Olympic, as the Allied invasion was to have been called, versus the nine that crossed the English Channel), civilians on Japan's main islands were mobilizing to repel the enemy with anything they could find: rocks, sticks, bamboo. Throughout the Pacific, the American forces were dreading the coming weeks, if only because they had seen the tenaciousness of the Japanese and feared that an invasion of the main islands could only create a gruesome battle fought to the last man, another Stalingrad.
The precious few who knew that America was testing a secret weapon in the summer of 1945 never referred to it as a bomb. To the boys at the assembly plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, it was Project S-Y; to the Joint Chiefs, S-1; to the head of the Department of War, only "X" (though Secretary Stimson's diary entries also include references to "the thing" and "the dreadful"); to the scientists at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, test site, the ones with the best vantage point to the weapon's awesome power and destructive potential, it was "the gadget," "Thin Man," and "Fat Man." Such was the peculiar, humbling atmosphere around the first atomic weapon that the closer it came to reality, the more childish the appellation those near it gave it.
On August 5, 1945, "Little Boy," which was the name that stuck on the one that mattered, was loaded onto the bomb bay of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets's B-29. Seventy-five crack fliers had been waiting for months for this moment, having volunteered for an assignment about which they knew only one thing: they would be doing "something different." During maneuvers, the fliers had been instructed to wear welder's goggles and never look back in the direction of their target (peculiar enough) but when they were told they would be dropping one bomb and only one bomb, they took the news as both perplexing and demeaning.
On August 5, the night before the historic day, the members of the 509th Composite Group learned that their "one bomb" would be delivering a destructive force of twenty thousand tons of TNT. By that time, it was obvious that something very different was at hand. The military's top brass had arrived on the i
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