Category Archives: World War II



WINTER 2023 UPDATEAT LAST –      After ten years of planning and development and over a year of filming in England the  wait is nearly over as Masters of the Air nears its January 26, 2024 two-part opener. Based on the actual saga of the 100th Bomb Group, known as the “bloody 100th,” which lost 86% of its original B 17 complement, the nine-part series has a price tag reputedly twice the $125 million cost of its much loved predecessor, Band of Brothers.  Before the introduction of P51 Mustang escorts later in 1943, all the B17 and B24 bomb groups flew with only their own guns for protection and directly into box barrages launched from 40,000 German 88mm flak guns, rated as the war’s best combined artillery and anti-tank gun.  And then there were swarms Bf 109 and F-W 190s, themselves among the war’s best fighter planes.  The German pilots had been flying and fighting since 1936, resulting in losses for the Eighth Air Force of an extraordinary ten times more than for the Allied infantry.  But the “Mighty Eighth” prevailed, launching ever-increasing thousands of sorties from scores of newly built British bases, many remaining even now in parts or major components and which can be visited after 80 years.   Over 200,000 GIs flew up to 35 missions, becoming history’s greatest air armada, able to send 2,000 bombers with 1,000 fighters on a single mission.  Soon, their story will be told in the upcoming series.  

Five chapters in THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II explore the bases from then to now, including the author’s dramatic never-seen photos depicting the daily lives of the airmen. O’Connor visited, photographed, walked the same bases, and interviewed participants for their never-before told stories and the overlooked heroism that brought the war to Germany long before the D Day landings.

 No reason to wait for the series release. Prepare by pressing the button below to order your copy on Amazon in hardbound, Kindle, or paperback.  Of special interest according to readers is that the work appeals to readers who thought that everything of importance had long ago been revealed about the war.   Five years after publication, O’Connor’s depiction of the war’s overlooked but still-existing places that were essential to the outcome of history’s greatest war, continues as highly regarded by 95% of its readers.


A London Blitz survivor: ” The best book I have ever read about the Second World War.”  An Amazon  book reviewer: “I wanted to put it down but couldn’t.”


Retelling the heroic epic of the Eighth Air Force in Europe, the much anticipated sequel to Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific, has been underway almost as long as World War 1 and II combined.  It will be worth the wait as the ten episode mini-series is set for release January 24,2004 on Apple + TV.  .

MASTERS OF THE AIR  was filmed in several East Anglia villages,  the location then and with the considerable remains now of numerous seldom visited former Eighth Air Force bases.  Most of the villages are little changed since the war, including the same pubs visited by the long-gone airmen.    Already, neighbors are complaining about the sounds made by the vintage aircraft disturbing garden parties.  The series will be largely based on the real-life saga of the 100th Bomb Group based at Thorpe Abbots, located four miles east of Diss, population 605, in Norfolk, England.  The former base has a museum dedicated to the 100th BG.  Called the “bloody 100th” as a sign of respect, the group lost 177 B-17s and 785 crew killed in action,  a casualty rate of 77% in 22 operational months. 

Based on the permit application to the village  no actual flying will take place  in the 10 part series.  Shown are wartime crew members and their B-17. The other photos are of a replica B-17 on the set to be used  only for taxiing and interiors.  CGI (computer generated imagery) will portray the missions and harrowing air combat.            

(Referring to the 100th Bomb Group in text from THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II) : “Only four of the original thirty-eight co-pilots survived.  No complete crew of ten finished intact.  At least 450 complete replacement crews served with the 100th BG. Appalling as were the 100th BG losses, they were exceeded by the 91st BG stationed at Bassingbourn.  In 340 missions, the 91st lost 197 B-17s, with the entire group of seventy-two bombers replaced an extraordinary four times, including damaged aircraft…they were eagles all.”   (Highly recommended are THE WAR LOVER and the much-admired TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH with Gregory Peck.) 

Spielberg assigned relative unknowns to the roles of flight and ground crews, but several have already been cast in other films to be released well before MASTERS OF THE AIR.   American, Austin Butler, will be seen in Elvis, with Tom Hanks portraying Col. Tom Parker.  Co-star, British actor Callum Turner stars in The Last Letter from your Lover on Netflix.   Briton, Josh O’Connor (no kin), will co-star in the series, which is certain to have both love interests, perhaps competitive, and well-deserved participation by the RAF.  Can’t wait? Watch the top-rated season three of The Crown.  O’Connor expertly portrays the increasingly confident, but at first immature, Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth, and heir to the British throne.  His uncertain relationship and subsequent marriage to Diana is significant.

To bring authenticity to the mini-series, a $7 million airfield including support buildings such as Nissan Huts, was built as a stand-in for the scores of bases once populating the region.  Small change indeed compared to the $200 million record budget for the 10-episodes.  In comparison, the celebrated Band of Brothers cost $125 million.  Based on the filming time of Band of Brothers, the shoot is expected to finish by the end of 2021 for release sometime in 2022.  Directing the first 3 episodes is Cary Fukunaga, highly praised for True Detective (2014-16).  It is reliably reported that one or more episodes will be in a recreated POW camp in Germany.

 Based on release dates of Spielberg productions such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), Band of Brothers (2001), and the immortal Schindler’s List (1993) Masters of the Air may not begin on Apple TV until late 2022.  These additional photos from behind the scenes of the British set, show vintage vehicles and town scenes. 


(L) Chalfont St. Giles today, one of the settings for MASTERS OF THE AIR.  The Eighth Air Force had half the war casualties of the entire USAAF, with 17 aviators given the Medal of Honor, 220 awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and 850 given the Silver Star.  The mighty eighth had 261 aces (5 or more enemy downed) and 305 enlisted gunners became aces.  As described with numerous never-seen photos in THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II, numerous base remains and memorials await the time traveler.  Five chapters of the 340-page book describe the same bases where, as an example, the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourn lost 197 B-17s in 340 missions, with the entire group of seventy-two bombers replaced an extraordinary four times.

Over 26,000 U.S. dead made it the costliest for America as well, with the Eighth Air Force having ten times the casualties of ground forces.  RAF Bomber Command suffered even more with almost 40,000 killed.  A Google search will locate the thrilling U-tube trailer for the series made in 2014 when it was titled THE MIGHTY EIGHTH.

No reason to wait because author, Jerome M. O’Connor’s widely praised first book brings readers to the remains of the same East Anglia, England bases, with vivid then to now descriptions , never-seen photos, and interviews.  O’Connor located the same buildings where the First, Second, and Third air divisions were headquartered.  Included are photos of scrawled initials, bicycle tire tracks and size 9 footprints by an airman trailing into eternity in curing concrete at Rackheath. One chapter describes the relationship between an English boy of ten and the crew of a B-24 who made him their mascot and greeter after each mission.  Jimmy Stewart has a well-deserved chapter set at both of his British bases.

Other chapters go into the nearly intact U-boat bunker bases in France, or to the mansion and the same plywood wall map viewed by General Eisenhower in making the most important decision of the 20th Century.  Visit a London mansion owned by the Sassoon family where 59 captured Nazi generals were housed in luxurious conditions, including plated meals, their own pub, and private rooms – but for a reason.  Photos show the same rooms on the last day it was open before conversion into condos.

The author at Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s place in the Cabinet War Rooms. The red, wooden dispatch case held messages to/from the King. The 1978 Chicago Tribune feature was the first to reveal the existence of Churchill’s mythic war rooms.

In 1978, seven years before opening as one of London’s most visited museum’s, the author (L) at Churchill’s seat in the Cabinet War Rooms ), was the first to reveal in the Chicago Tribune the intact existence of Churchill’s War Cabinet headquarters.  His several cover features were the first to reveal Bletchley Park, where the Enigma cypher device was broken.

Holiday gift giving: A quality paperback edition was released in 2022. Now in three forms.  Order now on Amazon.

The left photo below shows Jimmy Stewart with his air and ground crew as part of the 445BG, 703 squadron, in front of B-24  Tenovus at Tibenham.  He  is in the top row, fourth from left wearing a trench coat. Of five chapters describing the epic missions of the USAAF, an entire chapter describes his  heroic missions, and understated heroics as one of the greatest of his storied generation.




A London Blitz survivor: ” The best book I have ever read about the Second World War.”  An Amazon  book reviewer: “I wanted to put it down but couldn’t.”



(L) TRENT PARK – The posh London mansion where 59 captured German generals had nearly open access with every word spoken secretly recorded.  

WESTERN APPROACHES COMMAND CENTER (R) in Liverpool, the overlooked two-level, concrete-encased, bunker from where convoys entering or departing Liverpool and UK ports were controlled.   With scores of photos, many never before seen, the 88,000 – word book will reveal overlooked places and events that will challenge the knowledge of even the most avid enthusiast. A first look at the chapters:   

INTRODUCTION – The last days of peace.  Germany, once again ready.  Britain, unwilling and unable.  America divided by isolationism.                                              PROLOGUE – THE HOUR OF DESTINY. War declared, Britain alone, nears defeat.  Churchill prepares to fight alone while America remains sidelined – or so it seems.
CHAPTER ONE – THE FALL OF FRANCE- BLOOD, TOIL, TEARS AND SWEAT –  Appeasement fails. Churchill rushes to Paris.  Catastrophic news. Britain will pay a price.
CHAPTER TWOWEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1940 – A CABINET MEETING IN THE BUNKER. Churchill enters his war headquarters, an easy target for German attack.
CHAPTER THREE LIVERPOOL AND THE WESTERN APPROACHES COMMAND CENTER. The rarely seen underground headquarters that controlled entry and departure of the wartime convoys supplying Britain. (Photo above)
CHAPTER FOURFDR’s UNDECLARED WAR. Overlooked for decades are the facts from declassified files revealing FDR’s secret aid to Britain before America’s entry.
CHAPTER FIVE SECRET MISSION TO SINGAPORE. The least-known US Navy mission discloses how and why FDR approved the pre-war loan of five US transports to take an entire British division to beleaguered Singapore in its last dying days.
CHAPTER SIX FALL OF “THE GIBRALTAR OF THE EAST.” Japanese bombs drop as  American transports disembark British troops in Singapore, with death or imprisonment ahead for the 16th Division.  Britain’s biggest war loss in history.
CHAPTER SEVEN FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA – THE UNKNOWN ODYSSEY OF THE SS AMERICA/USS WEST POINT.  Beginning with a still unknown pre-war secret mission, the pride of America’s merchant fleet becomes a troop-ship and sails to glory.
CHAPTER EIGHT BLETCHLEY PARK: THE SECRET WAR.  First disclosed by the author, a tattered collection of temporary buildings in the British countryside where the Nazi Enigma cypher was broken.  Along with the Atomic Bomb, the war’s major secret.
CHAPTER NINE U-BOAT SANCTUARY.  Intact after seven decades,  the U-boat bases are the largest remains of the European war.  A must-see for any World War II enthusiast.
CHAPTER TEN INSIDE THE LIONS DEN. In a rare exclusive with exclusive photos, view the former headquarters from where Admiral Karl Doenitz commanded the U-boat fleet that almost won the war for Nazi Germany.
CHAPTER ELEVEN LAUNCHING THE INVASION. SOUTHWICK HOUSE AND D-DAY.  That the invasion took place is known everywhere, but not the unchanged place where the decision was made, still in its original appearance.  See the same floor to ceiling map.
CHAPTER TWELVE THE BAND OF BROTHERS. The famed “Easy Company” from D-Day to Hitler’s mountain hideaway.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN AIR FORCE PILOT, HERO, AND MOVIE STUART: JIMMY STEWART AND THE NEED TO FLY.  Too tall, too thin, too old, a famous star – one of America’s unsung heroes – and the same base in England from where he flew B-24s to bomb Germany.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN – THE US ARMY AIR FORCE IN EUROPE. With ten times the casualties of the infantry, they still flew against the odds and into history.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN “LITTLE AMERICA:” PATRIOTISM AND PRODUCTION BUILT THE BASES.  Funded by the US, British contractors built scores of fully-functioning bases in an area the size of New Jersey.  See the surprisingly intact remains decades later.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN ATTACKING THE HEART OF GERMANY.  How the airmen adapted to ever-improving German tactics but still lost 28,000 killed in fierce air combat.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN LIVING THE HISTORY/THE BASES WHERE IT BEGAN.  Walk the perimeter tracks and runways and view control towers and remaining parts of the bases, including the ghostly footprints and initials left for history.
CHAPTER EIGHTEENA BOY ON THE FENCE.  Decades after the war, the author is told how a ten-year old boy became the mascot for a B-24 and its crew, later to have a tragic ending.  Decades later, learn about it from the same person.
CHAPTER NINETEEN – THE NORDEN BOMBSITE AND THE MYTH OF STRATEGIC BOMBING. Manufactured in great secrecy, the little-known story of how the famous precision bomb-sight became one of the war’s major failures.
CHAPTER TWENTY TRENT PARK TATTLETALES.  How and why 59 captured German generals were maintained in a posh London mansion in near luxury, unaware that every word was being secretly recorded. Enter the mansion on its last day before conversion into apartments.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONETHE ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY.   The war could not have been won without American involvement.  A salute to the US Home Front.  Then and now appearance and use of the same factories where the war goods were made.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWOREMAINS OF THE REICH: INTACT TRACES IN UNEXPECTED PLACES    With photos, descriptions, and present-day views of Nazi remains proving that the “Thousand Year Reich” was no fantasy.                                                                                EPILOGUE What the GI’s saw in Germany validated why they fought and what they saw in New York harbor confirmed their commitment to freedom. 

Includes numerous photos – most never-before seen.  The 340-page hard-cover book or Kindle version  is available on Amazon, and select bookstores.



ULTRA – THE SECRET OF THE CENTURY                                           Along with the Manhattan Project, STATION X or Bletchley Park and its war-winning breaking of the ENIGMA cypher machine (shown here with a front-line German signals unit) were the major secrets of World War Two.  In preparation for the 1997 feature, the first to be written about Bletchley and it war-winning secret, I visited and photographed the the lonely “huts” and the hulking mansion.  I was in the presence of history and felt it deeply, but for most of the day I was also the only visitor.  It was little-known then, but fast forward to the present day and witness its conversion into one of the world’s most unique indoor and outdoor museums.

Churchill delightedly referred to the war-winning secret and the thousands who never BLETCHLEY PARK BOOK 060515 010revealed it as “the golden geese that never cackled,” but today the place where it happened is as easy to see as taking a fast train from London’s Euston Station, and a short walk to the front entrance.  History awaits.  Like a many-chambered nautilus, the stark “huts” extending from the mansion took on a different appearance and function as the war progressed and the skills of the code-breakers improved. There they stand in hasty variety, scattered over 50 acres, finished in pine and peeling paint or raw brick, some with portions of unfinished bomb blast walls, and, until recent years, all were hollow with abandonment.

800px-Hut6                          798px-Hut-1                                                                                  The odd-bodies and boffins summoned to BP were a curious lot even by the casual standards of the time.  Tweedy dons came from Oxford and Cambridge, with droll linguists and pedagogues from newspapers, publishing houses, museums, and rare book stores, with crossword puzzle experts, chess masters and philosophers completing the eccentric aggregation.  The unorthodox ensemble was needed because secret messages no longer were produced by humans using words – as in World War 1 – but by machines generating an ever-changing confusion of letter combinations.




BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 011The standard three-rotor Enigma shown here with two spare rotors, messages sent in Morse code into unintelligible cipher text.  The mystery to solve was not what went into the machine but how to get the message out, and to do it while there was time to change the outcome of a battle or shift the course of a convoy.  The three-rotor Enigma could encipher 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations.  But in 1942 the Germans introduced even more elaborate machines with up to 12 wheels, including the M4, that locked-out the BP codebreakers for ten desperate months as the Battle of the Atlantic raged on and under the sea.

As part of an intricate process, the names of people, places, battles, units, enemy radio stations, even cover names, were BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 016punched into data processing machines that sorted, collated, and cross-referenced the cards into a mammoth index.  The punched cards were then stored in constantly expanding one-story buildings in Block C. The mostly women clerks searched up to two million cards weekly to winkle-out the smallest detail to help the codebreakers in the other huts.

During my 1998 visit to view a collection of buildings with few BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 018exhibits and even fewer visitors, one’s imagination needed expansion to envision what took place then compared to today’s still evolving information age.

Between then and now an amazing transformation has taken place.  Where there was emptiness in 1996 there is now major activity.  On the day of my 2015 return visit, twelve fully loaded motor coaches plus hundreds more visitors who came by rail or auto now visited what was once the most secret place in war torn Europe.  Compare the original photo above with the same room now.

As early as January 1940, only 5 months after the war’s start, BP codebreakers already had entered Enigma’s labyrinth.  They were aided by the curiously named “bombe” (below) an electro-mechanical machine that could be plugged with clues or “cribs” to produce menus for possible solutions or “break-in’s.” It was intended to mimic the same

BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 077way that an Enigma may have been set by its operator.  With number and letter instructions gained from results from the hot and noisy sprocket driven machines, one or more of the “bombes” would clatter to a stop, followed by the report of “jobs up,” meaning that Enigma had been penetrated again.  An unexpected intelligence coup saved months of labor when Polish mathematicians gave the British plans for the “bombe,” and the Polish secret service gave the British an actual working Enigma.  With thousands of solutions from the Enigma riddle during the war and with over 12,000 on the staff, only four persons had full details of the secret.



BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 008Farther afield, thousands of radio operators at coastal intercept stations, supplied masses of raw, encrypted Enigma messages that often originated under appalling conditions. Enemy transmissions alternated among 226 radio frequencies, with Enigma messages averaging only 10 seconds in duration.  Successful detection had to overcome constant frequency changes, enemy jamming, static, howling whistles and squeals, and the ordinary sounds of music or dialogue. Once intercepted at the ‘Y’ or coastal listening stations, raw messages were packed into the side compartments of motorcycles, including this one, and delivered – up to 50 per hour – to BP for potential solution.  Later in the war secure teleprinters greatly improved the process from intercept to analysis.  Choice intercepts were sent to Churchill in his own secret complex at the Cabinet War Rooms in central London.  (Jerome O’Connor was the first to reveal the existence of the mythic war rooms.  The original Chicago Tribune feature is elsewhere on this site.)

The joint military and civilian staff worked on trestle tables set up in drafty, poorly lighted,and hastily constructed temporary buildings extending from the mansion, with women outnumbering men eight to one.  The military wore uniforms without badges of rank or unit markings.  Civilians dressed in tweed or corduroy, and everyone worked furiously, eight hours on and eight hours off around the clock.  From the day the war started until the day it ended six years later, the pace continued unabated.


Still little-known is the presence  in Block D of 230 American cryptanalysts.  This block was so privileged – a secret within a secret – that its 1,000 member staff  was itself separated by individual departments, none knowing what the others were doing on the other side of  separating walls in the same building.

BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 050BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 021There was good reason for the added security deep within what was already the most secure place in Britain.  Within Block D a traffic analysis section known as SIXTA assembled individual puzzle pieces from scores of thousands of Enigma intercepts.  The history-changing result disclosed the German order of battle and the location of every unit and vessel.  It contributed to a vast deception with the Nazi’s believing that the June 6, 1944 invasion would happen in the Pas de Calais instead of Normandy.  Churchill gave top priority to Bletchley’s revelations and shared the results with his friend and savior, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 091ALAN TURING – THE ENIGMA  The inaccuracies in the film The Imitation Game aside, the history-changing accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers were now fully revealed to a world audience.  The genius who was a major figure in the breaking of Enigma was at home in his world of figures and computations, but seldom elsewhere. Peculiar practices clung to Turing like layers of moor fog.  To his BP colleagues he was “the Prof,” often seen distractedly hurrying to or from the mansion and Hut 8, the section struggling to break the U-Boat code.  To his neighbors in nearby Shenley Village, he was the odd one on the bicycle wearing a gas mask, the best thing for relief of chronic allergies, he believed.  He was iconoclastic, contradictory, and eminently mysterious, the perfect ingredients for an eccentric scientist, or for a demented uncle locked in the attic.  His mind was occupied with constant calculation.  In determining that a loose bicycle chain would come off after 14 turns, he would stop to adjust the chain after each 13 revolutions.  But he also knew that this habit was also part of the chain of inferences necessary for breaking Enigma.  The inferences led to either a contradiction (you were wrong and moved to the next position on the rotor) or a confirmation as the likely letters were transformed into words and then a solution.  Scientists then and now use the same approach to determine the probability of any assumption: observe and conclude.  The Bletchley gift store recognizes Turing’s fame with various books, and with his Hut 8 office open to view nearby.


The 1870s mansion, known as the Main House, was the headquarters and center of the entire operation.  Shown below is a rare wartime photo and the same view today.  Until April 1942, when a separate building served as the staff canteen, the main dining room below served as the cafeteria, and then became the dining room for senior staff.  The Main House continuously served as offices for the senior staff, with the former billiard room converted into a telephone exchange, later to be moved into its separate blast proof hut.  The telephone exchange switchboard facilitated communication later in the war from teleprinters then installed in the ‘Y’ or coastal listening stations.  The teleprinters largely replaced the delivery of messages by motorcycle.



After VJ Day and the end of the second great war of the century, the codebreakers went back to their lives secure in the knowledge that they had helped save civilization.  What part of it they had saved they didn’t know, not until their first reunion  in 1996 at, of course, Bletchley Park.

As required by the Official Secrets Act until its 1972 expiration and which everyone signed, all who served at Bletchley were obliged to never disclose the secret of the century.  Its violation in wartime could have resulted in death.  But the “golden geese never cackled” and the secret was never revealed.

The epic achievement of the BP codebreakers will be remembered as one of history’s greatest accomplishments in war or peace.  As the direct result of the breaking of Enigma and the later solution to the Nazi’s “secret writer” machine, many thousands of Allied and enemy lives were spared.  Battles were won or avoided; wolf-pack lanes skirted or attacked.  Top Secret Ultra knew enemy intentions often before they were communicated to the field. Ultra revealed orders of battle, situation reports, details of fuel and ammunition reserves, manpower shortages, spare parts inventories; indeed, the state of readiness of every unit in the armed forces.  Ultra knew the exact number of men, aircraft and tanks committed to a battle.  What the Germans did not know about Allied strategy was as vital as what Ultra DID know about enemy plans.

D-Day took place in 1944 instead of 1945 because Ultra knew that the Germans were confused about the actual landing area and that 19 German divisions were waiting for an attack from the nonexistent army of Gen. George Patton to a never-intended landing area, the Pas de Calais.  Ultra helped win the Battle of the Atlantic, the crucial battle of El Alamein, and contributed to the American breaking of Japanese codes that helped win the Battle of Midway.

America’s major accomplishment in breaking the Japanese diplomatic “Purple” cypher began well before the attack at Pearl Harbor, was also known by only a few and called by its own code, “Magic.” However, the content within Purple was unable to provide sufficient detail to know the precise location of the December 7, 1941 attack, only the likelihood of an attack somewhere in the Pacific.  Shortly after Pearl Harbor the Japanese naval code was also broken, which produced the battle-winning clues leading to the decisive victory at the Battle of Midway.  The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory at Midway permanently stopped the Japanese advance across the Pacific.  Because of a finally awakened United States citizenry, everything before Midway was loss, but all that followed was victory.









ARSENALB-29[1]Your group can now visit the one-time world’s largest war factory located near Chicago’s Midway Airport. There is nothing like it anywhere. Five engines for every one of the over 18,000 B-29s that ever flew were made from scratch in this war plant. Exclusive access to the re-purposed multi-million square foot original building, now Ford City. Visible and available for viewing inside and out will be the mammoth assembly building,  numerous out-buildings, connecting underground tunnels, original artifacts, even the re-purposed but fully intact B-29 engine test stacks. See the same wartime housing built for many of the 35,000 employees. Chicago-area organizations can include a pre-lecture by Mr. O’Connor, featuring rare original wartime images from inside the plant.  Learn how Chicago and America’s manufacturing abilities made possible the World War 2 victory. For more information use the contact form. Please furnish full details including date, group size and type, contact information, and transportation needs.




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Between 1942 and 1945 sixty-three Nazi generals captured on the battlefield, were secretly and continuously interrogated in this North London mansion known as Trent Park.

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Liverpool’s Western Approaches Command Center,the unknown link with the Battle of the Atlantic,may be World War Two’s last remaining major secret.

By Jerome M. O’Connor

MEMBER: American Society of Journalists and Authors          

Discovering the legendary underground fortress that once controlled Britain’s part in the Battle of the Atlantic seemed unlikely.  British tourist offices in New York and London and several war museums could not verify the existence of the 100 room, 50,000 sq. ft. underground enclave.  A local man had a discouraging opinion: “It was open but they locked it and threw away the key.” Did the intelligence headquarters that so powerfully contributed to Britain’s wartime salvation exist only in memory or did it languish ignored and unheralded?

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“ LONDON BLASTED ANEW FROM AIR”  “…Attacks were most violent in all the five previous weeks of the aerial siege of Britain’s capital…400 killed… Waterloo Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral hit.”  (Headline: Frederick, MD POST)  On that day in 1940 the forward movement of democracy and civilization seemed to pause. The Nazi invasion of the British Isles was expected by spring 1941 at the latest, and America’s ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy, no supporter of England ’s chances, was summoned to Washington for urgent talks.  The lights in the White House burned brightly all night, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt readied a seven-minute radio address to the American people.  It would announce a compulsory peacetime draft of 16 million men.  That day, fourteen months before Pearl Harbor, America readied for war.



At 5 feet six inches, Winston S. Churchill possessed a resolute bearing that denied his height. Boarding his limousine for the brief trip from Number 10 Downing Street, he had an especially vital task that day.  London’s port facilities were in ruins from almost daily air attacks, and needed immediate repair.  Nine hundred fires raged out of control.  The heaviest air raid to date thundered overhead.  Five months earlier, May 10 1940, the day he became Prime Minister, Germany invaded the Low Countries.  Two weeks later, 338,000 Tommies and other troops evacuated Dunkirk in defeat.  Six British and three French destroyers were sunk.  All of the army’s heavy equipment and vehicles remained on the beach.  Only the English Channel lay between the Nazi hordes and victory. The battle of France began that first day in office, only to end in a humiliating French surrender a mere six weeks later.  Now, five months on, Churchill knew well that Britain’s fate hovered over a vast chasm, with the near certainty of apocalyptic destruction rained from above over the storied kingdom by the sea.  Perhaps Ambassador Kennedy was correct in saying that England’s prospects were “hopeless.”  

  1945 map room            CWR112    1946 Map room2 (2)124 CWR corridor by map room

As he entered the underground concrete compound, two bodyguards following, a Romeo and Julieta cigar haze trailing, a Royal Marine came to attention on a coconut and rubber floor mat.  Whistling, loud talk, and hall gatherings stopped.  The PM was acutely sensitive to any sound – except the sound of his own voice.  He entered the hastily built Cabinet War Rooms, an enclave more resembling a basement – which it was – than the stronghold there was no time to build.  Churchill’s war headquarters resided a mere ten feet below the 1906 built Ministry of Work’s ground floor.  As conspicuous as a jack-o-lantern in a snow bank, the squat, sooty government building hid in plain sight.  The labyrinth of rooms on which Britain’s future depended, stood directly across from St. James Park, an easy target for German paratroopers, and a two minute walk through a connecting tunnel from Downing Street to the Cabinet War Rooms. The previous night, a bomb hit Number 10, killing three people.  Only a single Royal Marine guarded the entry known as Number One Storey’s Gate, and he was concealed behind the double-door exterior entrance.  Only a three foot exterior concrete blast wall hinted at something unusual occurring inside.  At precisely 5pm Churchill went into the relatively spacious Cabinet Room, his ministers smoking and whispering among themselves, prepared to discuss red-flagged briefing papers in manila folders.  “Gentlemen, let us begin.”

WESTERN APPROACHES CHURCHILL 001 Taking his seat at a wooden chair in front of a five by ten foot Rand McNally world map, the King’s red wooden dispatch box on the table before him, Churchill knew that of all the current and coming crises England confronted, the circumstances at sea were especially appalling.  Anticipating action, on September 1, 1939, the day war started, eleven U-boats were already at sea.  Two days later on the day war was declared, U30 sank the passenger liner Athenia, signaling the start of unrestricted submarine warfare. By the end of the war’s first month, U-boats had already sunk 63 merchant ships, losing only five in return, an exchange Britain could not long sustain.  When the war began, Britain had 6,700 merchant steamers, the largest such fleet in the world, and more than twice that of her nearest competitor, the United States.  But, as an island empire, Great Britain’s dependence on peacetime imports proved to be her greatest weakness in wartime.  Only one month after the first minister’s meeting in the war rooms, coordinated wolf-packs sank thirty-four merchant ships in only 48 hours.  In the early years of the war, 280,000 tons of Allied shipping went to the bottom each month.  In memoirs after the war, Churchill wrote that, “…the U-boats were the only fear I had in the entire war.”

P1000248 Returning for rest and overhaul to their five impregnable bases along France’s Bay of Biscay, the wolf-packs were soon back at sea, proving they were the hunters, and the thin convoy fibers originating from the United States and Canada were the hunted. Churchill had to buy time before regaining mastery of the seas.  But there was neither money nor time.  England ’s only hope lay with the 32nd President of the United States, his great and good friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  

On February 9, 1941, transmitted by BBC short wave, Churchill addressed these words directly to America : The other day President Roosevelt gave his opponent… a letter of introduction to me.  And in it he wrote out a verse in his own handwriting from Longfellow…here is the verse: ‘Sail on oh ship of state, sail on oh Union strong and great. Humanity with all its fears, with all the hopes of future years, is hanging breathless on thy fate.’ What is the answer that I shall give in your name to this great man?  Here is the answer that I will give to President Roosevelt: Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and under Providence all will be well.  We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire.  Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long drawn trials of vigilance will wear us down.  Give us the TOOLS and we will FINISH the job.”   

FDR_FOR_SS_10808[1] The “Arsenal of Democracy”         Dismayed by the results of the 20th Century’s first Great War, its outcome pointing directly to a second, even bloodier conflict, FDR presided over a fractious electorate of 132 million.  He had won 38 of 48 states in the 1940 election, but held only a slender 5% plurality.  Still in recovery from the Great Depression, in 1940 American unemployment exceeded 14%.  Yet, FDR largely succeeded in reassuring the American people with Sunday evening radio “fireside chats,” and an infectious upbeat outlook.  But, at the end of the day, how could he help England when Congress had prohibited full rearmament by enacting a series of neutrality acts punishing friend and foe equally?  And, lacking naval contracts, America’s shipyards echoed with emptiness.  Congress finally gave the Navy a trivial $250 million for new shipbuilding and systems modernization of its mostly obsolete ships. The American military had all but disarmed after 1918, with the US Army fielding thousands more cavalry horses than fully armed mobile divisions.  If stressed, the US could muster 6 divisions. but Germany’s globe-dominating military had ten percent (6.8 million) of its population already fully trained and ready for war.  In 1940, the US military ranked 18th in the world; even tiny Portugal had more men under arms than America. 

Fireside Chat Comic
FDR easily mastered the new medium of radio with 15 fireside chats by 1940.

 The United States had no munitions industry, and with Holland ’s surrender came the potential of ending virtually any manufacture of arms requiring rubber.  Ninety percent of America’s rubber came from the Netherlands East Indies. Newspaper publishers savaged FDR almost daily.  Unsympathetic editorials in 85% of America’s newspapers opposed Roosevelt ’s pleas for re-armament.  Gallup polls reported that the majority of Americans supported appeasement.  And the powerful isolationist’s lobby had a new champion in America’s hero, Charles Lindbergh.  In packed speeches, including the 18,000 seat Chicago Stadium, Lindbergh accused the Roosevelt administration of promoting a “defense hysteria.”  Sensing danger, Congress conceded by approving “cash and carry” accords, grudgingly sending the Royal Navy 50 WW1 destroyers.  Churchill had been informed that rescue from America by sea was only a matter of months away – if England could survive that long.  Liberty ships, the war’s “ugly ducklings,” eventually would number 2,751 vessels built on average in only 42 days at 18 U.S. shipyards.  The past failures and likely future setbacks on land and at sea, tugged at Churchill’s thoughts before that first meeting on October 15, 1940.  He needed America and he needed her now, or England would lose the war.  It was that certain.    

The Cabinet War Rooms, London  Although the current public entrance is not the original wartime entry, CWR staffers returning for a nostalgic visit decades later would not be disappointed.  The rooms are as complete in appearance and appointments as they were then.  The entire headquarters staff seems to have departed for a celebratory pint on VJ Day,15 August 1945, but never returned.The same places are set in the Cabinet Room as when Churchill opened the first meeting in 1940. CWRLocFilm2MAP ROOM 228 Here, the wartime coalition government and separate Defense Committee convened regularly.  Meetings, called the “Midnight follies,” could begin at any time of the day or night.  A famously late-retiring Churchill might call an evening conference, only to conclude it well after Midnight.  On average, 15 ministers and ministers without portfolio attended.  At various times they included Neville Chamberlain, Clement Attlee, Sir Hastings Ismay, General Alan Brooke, Viscount Halifax, Anthony Eden, Lord Beaverbrook, and others.  Churchill presided from a wooden chair with arm rests at the top of a hollow square of tables covered with blue cloth.  The ministers analyzed briefing papers, summaries, maps and charts.  An overhead brightly red painted interlace of steel beams glinted over the proceedings.  

ADMHORTONOFC Today, as if ready for a hastily called meeting, the table holds the same ink stained blotters, with pencils and files askew.  One tagged file on the table reads OPERATION OVERLORD – TOP SECRET.  Hitler would have sacrificed millions more lives for that one file detailing plans for the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. The separate Map Room is even more complete.  A wall to ceiling map showing punctures from thousands of colored push-pins, displays the perilous convoy routes from Hampton Roads to Halifax and on to the British ports.  On a raised center console surrounded by desk positions strewn with notes and manila files, seven different colored telephones, dubbed the “beauty chorus” were linked worldwide. 

WESTERNAPPROACHESREDTEL111709home_04WESTERNAPPROACHESWITCHBOARD111709history2_000                             WESTERNAPPROACHES110308064_000                                                                                                                                                                                                        Their insistent ring-ring sent watch officers and messengers scurrying to receive or send messages over the telephones or through pneumatic tubes.  Fourteen telephone lines went to British forces, the U.S. military, to embassies, and to the Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches in Liverpool. Two lines connected to the White House.  Frequent calls between Churchill and Roosevelt originating from a separate broom- closet sized room, discussed the latest discoveries from top secret ULTRA.  Over 12,000 code-breakers at Bletchley Park, the “golden geese that never cackled,” had already solved the primary means of secret German military communication.  



They had deciphered the myriad intricacies of the electro-mechanical Enigma machine.  Fifty decrypts a day in 1940, multiplied to 3,000 daily in 1943.  The war-winning accomplishment gave the Allies details of Hitler’s schemes, even before his armies knew. 

Back in the narrow, windowless, single corridor in the Cabinet War Rooms, a notice board with changeable cards reported on the weather outside, such as “fine,” “rainy,”and “windy.”  With typical British stiff upper lip, the “windy” card referred not to the movement of air, but to the presence of air raids above.  Nonetheless, the sound of bombs falling within yards of the building was sufficient indication of conditions above.  

Midway along the hall, a room with signs above the door states: THE PRIME MINISTER, and SILENCE. This was Churchill’s austere combination bedroom and office, called the “holy of holies”  by the ever dutiful staff.  Photos, personally selected by Lady Clementine, line the walls.  On one side of the room, his desk has a bound copy of “Dod’s Parliamentary Companion,” awaiting his unlikely perusal.  From the two BBC desk microphones, Churchill made four speeches rallying the world at war.  At the room’s opposite end, his single-sized bed with walnut headboard is routine enough – his folded bedclothes are at the ready – but oversize wall maps verify that this was the headquarters of a leader under siege. A seven by nine foot wall map in the bedroom was almost always concealed by drapes; General Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of few to view it.  Here, in the innermost sanctum of the Cabinet War Room’s secret spaces, the map shows the British beaches where the Nazi’s were expected to land.  Red and blue circles, and dotted and straight lines, reveal how little of the country was fully defended.  For all of Churchill’s boldness in thought and action, even he expected the worst.   A separate telephone room has – for the time and place – state of the art switchboards.  Six operators were on duty day and night.  In another tiny room, a pool of four typists hunched over black Remington’s, and duplicated correspondence on a mimeograph.    Another small room contains a full kitchen, lacking only cooks to prepare meals.  A range, a double-doored oven, cooking utensils, containers of additives and ingredients, electric oven-top grill, and the essential oversize metal tea kettle, anticipate a hurried Midnight meal request.


Overall, here is a museum that not only portrays a valuable segment of the 20th Century’s most important event, World War Two, but lives and breathes that same history in unsurpassed detail.  Even more, the bulldog tenacity of one of history’s transcendent giants is on full display, starting from the day when Winston Churchill first inspected the facility and said: This is the room from which I will conduct the war.”

Jerome M. O’Connor, Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1978


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In view of the great secrecy in which they operated, one would assume that merely locating much less actually entering  one or more  of the fabled French U-boat bunker bases would require much advance planning and more than good luck.  (For decades two of  the bases had been French Navy nuclear submarine installations.)   However, entering and exploring the bases was easily accomplished.

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Finest Hour magazine,Winter-Spring 2007


On 11 September 1939, eight days after Churchill returned to government as First Lord of the Admiralty, President Roosevelt began the first in a lengthy stream of correspondence between them.  From his first hour as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, Churchill had much to tell.  On that day Germany invaded the Low Countries.  A week later, General Heinz Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps was across the Meuse River, racing to occupy Calais, only 21 miles from Dover.  On 28 May, with Dunkirk being evacuated and U-boats sinking British ships within sight of the coast, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax floated the notion of learning Germany’s peace terms.  His forces cascading into retreat and defeat, Churchill had been in office little more than a fortnight.

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SOUTHWICK WARThe elegant country house where,on 5 June 1944,General Dwight D. Eisenhower made the historic and risky decision to launch the  D Day invasion.  After its momentary fame the mansion near Portsmouth – ignored for decades by authors and historians –  receded into history.  Not quite.  We discovered the house as it was on D Day.  And now it can be visited with advance application.

SOUTHWICK DRAWINGUrged by coils of lashing winds and rain, on the evening of June 4,1944 General Dwight D. Eisenhower entered Southwick House, a mansion near Portsmouth, England appropriated for the Allied Expeditionary Force advance headquarters.

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