Weirdly enough – and this apparently happens to authors at random – I had a dream about the plot of a new book late this past summer and woke up just in time to remember it all. A novel set in WWII, which is at least half a century or more out of my fictional headspace; I like the 19th century. Got all the reference books, the books or art, a grasp of the vocab and the look of the whole 19th century universe and outlook. (The costumes, too; yes – I dress in late Victorian or Edwardian garb to do a book event. No, the corset isn’t that uncomfortable, and yes, how people react to me in this get-up, hat, reticule, gloves and all … it’s amazing. Last time out in all this, I had a guy tip his hat to me and say, ‘Howdy, ma-am’ and that is just freaking amazing!)

But – WWII. For me, it is just enough close in time that I knew a lot of people personally involved, from Great-Aunt Nan, who was one of the first-ever women recruited for the WAACs, to any number of high school teachers (some of whom were more forthcoming about their service than others) to the Gentleman With Whom I Kept Company for about a decade, to a neighbor of Mom and Dad’s who had been a prisoner of war in the Far East and fortunate enough to have survived the experience. In short, the books, the movies, even the TV shows that I watched as a kid and teenager, were all marinated in the memories of the Second World War. I was born a bare decade after it was all over; shows like World at War were in the ‘must watch’ category at our house, as well as any number of now slightly cringe-making series like … never mind. Just take it for granted that WWII was inescapable for a person of my age. I also scribbled some bad and derivative juvenile fiction with a WWII setting. (Which I found in a box in the garage during the most recent turn out … yep, it was bad. Supposedly, one must write a good few millions of words to get the bad out of your system. Just about all of that is in a box in the garage, against which are orders to the Daughter Unit to burn in future.) And I had a self-directed exploration into the 1930s-1940s in college, when I had access to a college library with microfiche scans of a certain newspaper; I read every issue from 1935-1945, which was like seeing a whole decade of history’s first draft narrowly through a key-hole.

Anyway – enough of the throat-clearing. As is my wont when working out the fine details in a plot, I set up an Excel spreadsheet broken out by month and year, marking events in various theaters, all the better to work the travails of my fictional characters against. It struck me all over again that 1942 was the year That Everything Happened. For Americans, it was the first full year of war on two fronts; for Britain and her colonies and the governments-in-exile of her allies, it was the start of a third year of a war formerly limited, more or less, to Europe and North Africa. And then all merry old hell broke out in the Far East. Possessions, colonies, independent small countries began falling like nine-pins to the Japanese war machine. British Malaya and Fortress Singapore, Dutch Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam and Wake Islands, a good chunk of New Guinea and other islands all across the South China Sea – all fell in the first few months of 1942. It would have been a depressing thing, reading any major Western newspaper during those weeks; weeks where Allied confidence in their own ability to fight a balls-to-the-wall war and win took a considerable beating.

The Allies reeled … but in May, the fortunes of War began to smile on the Allies. A naval clash between Japanese, American and Australian naval forces in the Coral Sea checked Japanese attempts to take Rabaul in New Guinea. In the next month, another sea battle – again between dueling aircraft carriers in the defense of Midway Island – blunted further Japanese advances in the Central Pacific. In July and a world away – the Germans were blocked and turned back from Egypt at the first battle at El Alamein, and then again three months later, in the same place. In the month of August, the Americans began landing on Guadalcanal and the Australians began taking back New Guinea. The Axis tide was checked, and slowly began to retreat. In November, the Allies (American and British with Canadian, Australian and the Free Dutch naval backup) opened a second front with the Torch Landings in French-controlled Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – this not quite a year after Pearl Harbor. In barely a year, the Allies went from disaster and defeat on practically every front, to regroup and to begin effectively striking back. It would take another two years and more to completely defeat the Axis Powers, but it is striking to look at the timeline for 1942 and to see how the war situation turned from humiliating defeat, through resolve, and then to begin the long march back.

Discuss as you wish.    

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    And while it most certainly did NOT make the papers, 2 December 1942 had Enrico Fermi get a working “atomic pile” (nuclear reactor) going, showing one of the paths of the Manhattan Project was at least a possibility.

    • Celia

      Oh, the really interesting stuff is never on the front pages. I remember finding a little teeny announcement on the back page of the Chicago Tribune in 1937 about attempts to split an atom … and the front page had story after story of horrible natural gas explosion in a public school in Texas.

  2. Avatar

    Just a slight correction; the battle of the Coral Sea stopped the Japanese from capturing Port Moresby (not Rabaul).

    I am in my late 60s, and I am a self-made historian, especially of World War II and the (first) American Civil War. But wars even from pre-history have shaped all of the world’s borders as we know them today. Sadly, most people don’t know ANYTHING about any history, not even of the city/town/rural area they live in.

  3. Celia

    Thanks, Rusty – I had a raft of names of places that were strategic then, but not of much importance to the world at large before or after the war.