Bren Backfire

I wanted to add to your November 2006 article about the Bren gun, which is considered by many to be the finest light machine gun (LMG) ever made. The author did not address the disadvantages associated with guns such as the Bren that have a magazine mounted atop the receiver. One design flaw was that the magazine tended to catch on brush. Also, to sharp enemy eyes, a magazine protruding upward would reveal the location of the shooter, particularly if the gun was being used in low grass or on bare ground.

In his book Shots Fired in Anger, John George assessed American and Japanese small arms of World War II. George had the utmost respect for the deadly Japanese Nambu LMG Models 96 and 99, which like the Bren fed from top-mounted magazines. He noted that American soldiers or Marines generally needed to see the Japanese to kill them, but not so with Nambu gunners. One merely had to locate a Nambu’s magazine, estimate the approximate location of the gunner based on the magazine’s position, “shoot, and watch it fall down as the Jap’s shoulder gave way behind it.” George noted that many Bren gunners were aware of the problem and painted the magazines or camouflaged them with small nets.

Of course, one advantage of the Bren was its reliability, since the cartridges fed downward with gravity rather than upward against gravity as in a magazine mounted under the receiver, such as found in the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).

Charles A. Jones

Norfolk, Va.

Doolittle’s Star-Crossed Fleet

Before reading Jonathan A. Barker’s story of his assignment aboard USS Vincennes (“Perspectives,” July/August 2006), I had not paid much attention to the fate of this little group of ships that were part of Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s April 18, 1942, bombing raid on Tokyo.

Five of the eight ships involved in the raid were sunk in the following 15 months: Vincennes (CA-44) on August 9, 1942; Meredith (DD-434) on October 15, 1942; Hornet (CV- 8) on October 27, 1942; Monssen (DD-436) on November 13, 1942; and Gwin (DD-433) on July 13, 1943. Nashville (CL-43), Grayson (DD-435) and Cimarron (AO-22) survived the war.

When you add the quarter-million Chinese civilians murdered by the Japanese army as revenge for the Tokyo raid, it wasn’t a cheap victory at all.

James A. Smith Jr.

Willingboro, N.J.

Tricky Landings on Leyte

I thought Robert Citino’s book review of The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action in the September 2006 issue was excellent. I was a member of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group, Fifth Air Force, at that time. We flew many day and night missions over the battles being fought below. It seemed like chaos to us.

Right after Leyte was secured, Tacloban airstrip became our home base. Tacloban was the only American airstrip in the Philippines, while the Japanese had their own airfields throughout the islands. That meant we could expect to be bombed both night and day. Many of us were hit on takeoff, our planes loaded with bombs and fuel. What was worse, the airstrip itself was overcrowded with supply planes, aircraft of U.S. Navy and Marine pilots who had lost their carriers, and so on.

If any plane arrived that was damaged and was blocking our way, a bulldozer was quickly sent in to push it into the gulf, where it joined hundreds of other planes.

Stephen Perrone

Somerdale, N.J.

Ashes Into the Rhine?

In “The Reichsmarschall’s Revelations” (September 2006), it says in the last paragraph that following Hermann Göring’s suicide, his body was cremated and his ashes thrown into a trash can at Dachau prison. That I question. In 1945 I was with A Company, 508th Military Police Battalion, and was in Munich from October 17, 1945, to August 12, 1948.

We patrolled the city in two-man jeeps, each equipped with a radio, .45-caliber automatic pistol and Thompson submachine gun. In the fall of 1946, I volunteered to go with eight other soldiers to a Catholic church in Munich. Twelve caskets were in the back of the church. We all had to sign a paper saying that for at least 72 hours we wouldn’t talk about what we did that day.

The caskets were open, and we knew who they held. The bodies in 10 of the caskets had ropes around their necks, with the rope hanging about 4 feet down their bodies. Göring did not have a rope around his neck, since he had committed suicide the night before. As each casket was put into the fire, it was so hot that it would burn in seconds.

When a body was cremated and put into an urn, a French colonel who was there would take it to his car, escorted by one of our soldiers carrying a submachine gun. The colonel said he was heading to the Riem airfield in Munich, and would take the urns and scatter the remains over the Rhine River.

Nicholas A. Herzog

Imlay City, Mich.


Originally published in the April 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here