Thursday, June 30, 2016

Who helped raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi?

Last week, a special committee convened by the Marine Corps reignited an ongoing debate about the identities of the men pictured in the iconic WWII photograph of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi. The committee met to consider evidence that suggested one of the men in the photo had been misidentified. After examining other film and photographs taken that day, the committee concluded that the second man from the left was Private First Class Harold Schultz, and not Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley as previously believed. Schultz did take part in the first flag raising that day, but he died in 1995 having never spoken publicly about participating in the more famous second flag raising that was immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Photograph by Joe Rosenthal with PFC Harold Schultz highlighted
Image courtesy of USA Today

These developments illustrate how difficult it can be for historians to reconstruct the past. Even with movie cameras and photographers present to document one of the most iconic moments of the twentieth century, we have not managed to establish with 100% certainty who was present at the top of Mt. Suribachi on 23 February 1945.
Plaster model of Iwo Jima memorial by Felix de Weldon

Sculptor Felix de Weldon used Rosenthal’s photograph as the basis for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA.  De Weldon produced 36 plaster studies of the six men raising the flag before finishing the full size monument. Fortunately for the Naval War College, he worked in Newport and donated three of the studies to the Museum in 1973. One is currently on display outside Spruance Auditorium. The nine and a half years he spent working on the monument left de Weldon feeling a profound connection with the men whose images he had worked so hard to capture in bronze. At the dedication for the memorial in 1954, he told the audience that

To put my true feelings into words would be beyond my own powers of expression. I am sure it is not necessary to “tell it to the Marines.” Work on this statue has been almost my entire life these past years and now that it is finished, I am afraid that I shall feel lonely and a little lost. A sculptor does not work with words. His medium is bronze or stone and through this medium I have expressed my true feelings for the Corps and for those who died fighting with the Marines since 1775.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sino-Japanese War prints

Today’s post highlights one of our recent acquisitions from a conflict that doesn’t get much attention in the United States. Recently, we were fortunate to receive a donation of eight Japanese woodblock prints showing scenes from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). This event was an important conflict in Japanese history that marked Japan’s emergence as a modern military and industrial power in the late nineteenth century. China’s defeat and subsequent loss of influence over Korea signaled a shift in regional dominance and foreshadowed future conflict with the expanding Japanese empire.

click to enlarge

The Sea Battle Victory at Hioake Yama, c.1894
Ogata Gekko (1859-1920)
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
The largest naval engagement of the war took place on 17 September 1894, one day after a Japanese victory on land at the Battle of Pyongyang. The Chinese faced a difficult problem in attempting to reinforce their army. Given the poor condition of the roads, the only practicable way to move a large body of troops and supplies was by sea. Doing so, however, would force the Chinese to risk their best ships in battle. The newest vessels were bigger and more heavily armed than their Japanese counterparts, but they suffered a significant disadvantage in speed. For this reason, they usually avoided open water where the quick Japanese ships would have the greatest advantage. Nevertheless, the Chinese ruler, the Guangxu Emperor, ordered his fleet to push back the Japanese and keep the coastal routes safe. After completing a convoy escort, the Chinese encountered an attacking Japanese force late on the morning of the 17th near the mouth of the Yalu River.

Deficiencies in ammunition and training also limited the effectiveness of the Chinese fleet. Signaling confusion and poor seamanship resulted in the Chinese starting the battle in a wedge formation rather than a line, their preferred tactic. Seeing this, Admiral Ito Sukeyuki ordered his fleet to split into two columns and circle around behind to engage the weakest Chinese ships. Using their speed to avoid incoming fire, the Japanese sank five ships and damaged three while suffering only four heavily damaged of their own. The remnants of the Chinese fleet retired to their base at L├╝shunkou for repairs and were later destroyed in a combined land and naval attack.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum