Historical Trivia:  Pikemen of the Home Guard

In early 1942 the shortage of weapons to arm the recently formed Home Guard (formed in May 1940) saw the issuing of hurriedly made pikes.  Made of steel tubing and surplus sword bayonets the 5 foot long pikes were received with derision by the men of the Home Guard.  Following the Dunkirk Evacuation from France in the summer of 1940 the British military as a whole was suffering from severe arms and equipment shortages as small arms production struggled to keep up and the Lend-Lease programme began to gain momentum. 

In 1941, Winston Churchill had called for the 1.6 million men of the Home Guard to be quickly armed with anything that could be described as a weapon. By 1941 the Home Guard had been issued with 847,000 rifles and almost 50,000 machine guns of various ages and origins.  A whole slew of improvised weapons from sticky bombs to smoothbore anti-tank guns like the Smith Gun were also created with varying degrees of success.  The War Office ordered 250,000 pikes but very little were actually issued and the morale of the Home Guard units which did receive them suffered.  Lord Croft, the Under-Secretary of State for War was questioned in Parliament where he attempted to explain the pikes may be useful in close quarters urban combat or in night fighting.  

Three men of the Local Defense Volunteers (LDV), later the Home Guard, training with an M1917  c.1940 (source)

Following this they became known as ‘Croft’s Pikes’, most remained in the Home Guard’s area stores and by mid-1942 the availability of weapons to arm the Home Guard improved as a large number of American M1917 rifles chambered in .30-06, unsuitable for frontline use but ideal for the Home Guard, were issued.

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“Hit ‘em Again, Harder!”

USS Harder, SS-257

To quote Captain Hara Tameichi of the Imperial Japanese Navy - a destroyer sunk by a submarine is like “a cat eaten by a mouse”. True, because destroyers were often relied upon to protect larger warships from the submarines lurking below the surface. But sometimes the mouse fights back. Sometimes the mouse eats the cat. And sometimes the mouse eats not just one, but five cats.

Fourth War Patrol.

Gato-class submarine USS Harder departed Pearl Harbor on 16 March 1944, in company with USS Seahorse. She went to the western Caroline Islands, and was assigned as lifeguard ship for downed airmen. She rescued a downed pilot on 1 April, whose plane was shot down during an American airstrike against the island of Woleai.

On 13 April 1944, she was spotted by a Japanese plane, which reported Harder’s position to destroyer Ikazuchi. The cat began her hunt. As Ikazuchi closed to within 900 yards (~820 m) of USS Harder, the sub fired a spread of torpedoes. The result?

“Expended four torpedoes and one Jap destroyer.”

Within 5 minutes, the Akatsuki-class destroyer went under. Harder later sank merchant ship Matsue Maru, before ending her successful patrol.

Fifth War Patrol.

USS Harder joined the other submarines in an all-out hunt against Japanese destroyers, once considered their most formidable enemies. While patrolling the Sibutu Passage on 6 June 1944, she was spotted by a Japanese destroyer. She submerged, turned her stern to the destroyer, and fired 3 torpedoes. Destroyer Minazuki was struck by two torpedoes and exploded. She also sank within 5 minutes.

Next morning Harder was spotted again, this time by a Japanese aircraft. The plane signaled a nearby destroyer, and the destroyer soon came charging towards Harder. With three torpedoes, destroyer Hayanami was sunk, after a tremendous magazine detonation. Harder’s third destroyer kill.

In the evening of 9 June 1944, Harder sighted two patrolling Japanese destroyers. She made an undetected submerged approach, and at the short distance of 1000 yards (900 m) she fired four torpedoes. The second and third torpedoes struck Tanikaze and sent her to the bottom of the sea, another huge explosion. The fourth hit an unidentified destroyer, and probably sank her as well.

USS Harder made the astonishing achievement of sinking 4 enemy destroyers and damaging a fifth, in two war patrols only. She sank 3 (possibly 4) destroyers in four days. She would be remembered as one of the most notable Gato-class submarines.

Note: I used the word “Jap” simply because it was a quote from Commander Samuel D. Dealey. It is an offensive word to use. Use the word “Japanese”.