May 9, 1942
A day smarter, the four pilots had started before dawn. At sunrise, they had already been at altitude.
The previous day they had been fighting their way to altitude in every encounter. From altitude today they had engaged two groups of Warhawks and one group of Airacobras before returning to base. They parked their Spitfires at the edge of the tarmac for refueling and rearming and got out of their cockpits.
Flight Officer Whitten scrambled over to Flight Officer Williams. “Seven! Seven in one flight! With yesterday’s nine that makes sixteen!”
“Two for you yesterday, and one today. That’s three. Well done, Mike.”
“Who cares? Sixteen in two days!”
“Same pay. And you kept me alive. Thanks.”
Flight Officer van Hamel came over. “Seven kills, Ted. Not bad, by any standard. Our unit had only five confirmed kills before you arrived.”
“Thanks, but you hadn’t been here long.”
Flight Lieutenant Lippe-Biesterfeld joined the three pilots. “Ted Williams, it is an honor to fly with you,” he said, extending his hand.
Flight Officer Williams, who always looked down, shifted his gaze to the Dutch officer’s face. “Prince, thank you,” he said. “For me it’s a job. But you don’t have to be here. Thanks for watching my wing.”
The Prince of the Netherlands offered a handshake. Ted Williams accepted it.
“Let’s get breakfast,” said Flight Officer Whitten. “About an hour and we fly again. Let’s hope that they don’t hit our planes before we can take off.”
A young man, by rank already a sergeant, ran up to the Prince and started speaking rapidly in Dutch. The Prince responded, obviously concerned. The sergeant kept running on and on. The Prince, finally, gave some very direct orders. The sergeant answered, nodding, and ran away.
Flight Lieutenant Lippe-Biesterfeld turned to the other pilots and said, “We’re going to have to fall back. The Americans are too close. Our next airfield is Stuttgart, fifty miles east of here. I want a combat sortie to get us there, not just a transit. That is a risk. Do any of you object?”
The other three pilots were silent.
After a few seconds, Fight Officer Williams said, “Prince, I’ve only known you a day, but I already knew you had balls. Of course we fight our way there.”
Flight Officer van Hamel looked aghast. Flight Officer Whitten sputtered with laughter. Flight Lieutenant Lippe-Biesterfeld just smiled and answered, “Good. And you’re right, young man. Let’s get back into our Spitfires and do something good.”
May 9, 1942
Captain Copen’s Coonhound was fully below the gentle ridge dropping to the creek. The three Snappers were hull-down, their guns poking out tactically at the road to Little Rock.
“Is this really a good idea?” asked Sergeant Wesley Colton, the Captain’s new driver.
“Major Westmoreland says it is,” he replied. By standing in his seat, he could see the road with field glasses.
“Snappers can’t fight buttoned-up tanks, Sir.”
“And the American tanks’ guns can’t penetrate the Snappers’ frontal armor, especially with their noses pointing slightly up.”
“That doesn’t make this a good idea, Sir,” said Sergeant Colton.
“Watch,” said Captain Copen.
None of the American tanks seemed to notice the pair of binoculars peering over the crest of the ridge a hundred yards south of the Snappers. All of them noticed the guns poking in their direction. Several tanks fired. Most of the shells missed. One ricocheted off the armor of the middle Snapper, creating a fountain of sparks visible in the light of a Southern springtime morning.
The Snappers answered fire. Through binoculars, Captain Copen saw an American tank commander drop from shrapnel or blast. The other tank commanders dropped inside their armored fighting vehicles and closed their hatches.
The second salvo from the American armor, ragged in timing, was more accurate. Sparks flew everywhere and the off-key rings of ricochets rang from armor plate.
The Snappers retreated, slightly, from the military crest of the gentle ridge.
More than a dozen American tanks shifted their transmissions into gear and charged the ridge. Snappers’ short guns had no armor-piercing rounds. By now, Americans knew it. Closing to point-blank range was irrelevant. The Snappers’ front armor was angled and strong. From their flanks they were vulnerable. In a mobile fight, they were helpless.
Three American tanks guarding their own right flank burst into flames.
The other tanks stopped.
Three more erupted into fire.
Half of the tanks started to move in directions other than forward on either flank. Half turned around to retire.
The three that had turned right stopped, smoking or burning.
“This seems to have worked,” said Captain Copen. “Get on the radio and order the Snappers forward. That should wrap it up.”
“Yes, Sir!” said Sergeant Colton, getting on the Coonhound’s radio.
The Snappers came back over the gentle ridge. Their howitzers belched smoke, and the tanks that had opened up to try to discern from where the ambush had come lost their commanders. Then the Snappers advanced, knowing that their heavy howitzers were perfectly effective against the rear ends of any American tanks that had turned to retire.
From the cover of a sweet gum grove, the three Razorbacks kept pelting the remaining American armor with point-blank armor-piercing rounds. At least a dozen tanks lay burning upon the Arkansas cotton field. None of the tanks had yet realized from where death was coming. Trucks with infantry came into sight, following the armor. The Snappers targeted the helpless trucks. The Razorbacks finished off the armor.
The column of smoke grew broader and darker as more Americans died. The roads to the southeast remained blocked.
The way to Little Rock remained open.
May 9, 1942
Captain O’Brien looked at the load. He had been able to drive the truck empty. Now it was tons heavier, with cases of Quebec maple syrup surrounding composite copper-faced shaped charges and other demolition equipment. Behind the front seat of the truck were hidden the team’s guns, three machine pistols and a Boys Rifle. Captain O’Brien wore his personal pistol under his jacket, not on his belt. Grenades were in reach, hung just out of sight behind the seat. The weapons were good. The weight was bad. He had not really realized how hard it would be to drive the truck.
“Looks heavy,” said Sergeant Hiawatha.
“It does,” agreed Captain O’Brien.
Private Dekanahwideh nodded in concurrence.
“Let’s see how it drives,” said Captain O’Brien, opening the driver’s side door and stepping up into the cab.
The two Iroquois embarked on the other side. Hiawatha, by rank, rated the window. Dekanahwideh climbed up and over to the middle. The large bench seat had plenty of room for three passengers. All the men checked how to reach for their guns.
“Last chance—does anybody need to go to the latrine?”
Dekanahwideh looked puzzled. “Bathroom,” said Hiawatha. He nodded. They both looked at Captain O’Brien.
Recognizing his attempt at humor as a failure, Captain O’Brien released the emergency brake, revved the engine, shifted into first gear, and eased off the clutch. The truck responded slowly but firmly. He shifted into second gear, and there was no problem. They left the Watertown Arsenal, headed north.
May 9, 1942
“Good afternoon, Admiral,” said Commander Adams, limping into the inner office on crutches. He did not pause at the doorway, and it was completely understood.
“Good afternoon, Thomas,” said Vice Admiral Alden, looking up from his desk. “What brings you upstairs?”
“Lieutenant Christopher. Samson. He’s so strong he could lift me with one hand.” Commander Adams pivoted and dropped into his personal chair at the front-right side of Vice Admiral Alden’s desk.
“Amazing, isn’t he?”
“He’s a good man, Sir. I’ve had a chance to talk with him a bit. And I’m beginning to understand this Malcolm Little we’ve heard so much about.”
“Really!” said Vice Admiral Alden, intrigued. “Who is he?”
“You’ve met him,” said Commander Adams, smiling.
“I…yes, I sent him to Admiral Spruance with a recommendation. But that’s all.”
“Why, Admiral? I mean, as I understand it, he was speaking on the street in protest, he was about to be arrested, and you saved him and got him out of New England. Why bother?”
“I…” began Vice Admiral Alden. It was a good question. “I knew he was a smart young man. I knew he wanted to fight the United States. It…it seemed like such a shame to waste that passion.”
“But all you knew of him was how he had spoken on the street?”
“Yes…but…I could tell.”
“According to Samson, there are two things that distinguish Malcolm Little. One is his public speaking. He’s a smart young man in every respect, but he has a gift for oratory. His men worship him. It’s not a normal military relationship. It’s more as if he were a religious figure or spiritual leader. Part of it is his speaking, and part of it is his recognition of how others feel. He has a special tie with Negroes.”
“I can see that, Thomas. What’s the other thing?”
“He hates the ruling White people of the United
States. He doesn’t hate you or me—we’re
from New England. He’s wary of the
Whites in the Confederate States, but he tolerates them. But he despises the Whites of the United
States with a visceral loathing that was unlike anything Samson had ever
seen. Most of us in this war are
motivated by patriotism, or, at least, preservation of our homes. Samson knew Malcolm Little at Officer
Candidate School and saw him both in battle and in command. He likes him—he owes him his life. But he swears that the man is driven by
bitterness and rancor.”
“Mine, Admiral. But you did not see his face when he told me that.”
Vice Admiral Alden pondered for a moment on that one. Commander Adams turned to the end table, picked up the tiny rake, and groomed the sand in the Zen garden for a moment while the admiral thought. He nudged a polished stone gently to a better place.
Chief McGuire knocked at the door. “Sir, just a quick telephone message from Captain O’Brien. He says that it’s sunny in Boston where your daughters are.”
“Thank you, Chief, I’d asked him to do that. That means the loadout at Watertown was successful. He’s on his way.”
May 9, 1942
“Starting to rain, Sir. Looks bad. Better slow down,” said Sergeant Hiawatha.
“Already coasting,” said Captain O’Brien as the wall of water from the spring thunderstorm hit the windshield.
“Hmmp,” commented Private Dekanahwideh.
“Be careful. It’s easy to go off the road in the rain,” advised Sergeant Hiawatha.
“I know,” said Captain O’Brien. He could barely see the storefronts of Danvers or the asphalt of the Coastal Highway. He strained to find taillights or traffic signals. He had just driven the road a few days ago on his trip to Cadillac Mountain, but he didn’t remember it well. It would have been hard enough driving a car. Driving a truck in the downpour seemed impossible.
“We’ll be fine. You’ve seen worse than this, Sir,” said Sergeant Hiawatha.
“But here I can’t fire back,” replied Captain O’Brien tersely. He kept driving.
May 9, 1942
The tallest building in the city of Little Rock was the State Capitol. Modeled upon the United States’ Capitol Building, it towered 230 feet above the city streets. From the vantage of its impressive dome, one could see for miles down and beyond the city streets.
It was too good a target. Brigadier General Little, Colonel Stalworth, and Master Sergeant Washington were together, instead, in the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. The windows in the Gothic Revival tower, although well below its peak two hundred feet tall, were high enough to offer an excellent view of the city and any combat in the streets.
Few tanks or troops were held in reserve. The perimeter defense protected the downtown sector and the crucial bridges. Each street leading downtown had two Valentine tanks, three blocks in from the edge of the grid, side-by-side protecting the street with direct fire. Each street guarded by Valentines that way had two more tanks, one on each side, ready to hit advancing tanks on their flanks. Most of the streets leading downtown were guarded that way. A few on either flank, nearer the river, had only two or three tanks per street. A solid cordon of Negro infantry filled the buildings from the fringe of the city to the buildings inside the innermost tanks.
Near Saint Andrew’s Cathedral there were ten Valentine tanks and a company of infantry, along with all six mortars they had available. There had been promises of anti-tank guns and howitzers. None had come in time. The Negro Brigade had six mortars, that was all. At least there were plenty of shells.
“I’ve never seen so many tanks, Sir,” said Colonel Stalworth, softly. With binoculars one could see for miles. The roads for miles were jammed with trucks and tanks, both to northwest and southwest.
“They must know we’re here. They’ll wait for morning to attack,” said Master Sergeant Washington.
“They’re not slowing down,” commented Brigadier General Little. “I think that they’re going to engage.”
“General Little!” said Confederate Colonel Paul Hutcheson. Colonel Hutcheson was Colonel Stalworth’s “Shadow Officer,” helping the Deputy Commander—and, implicitly, Brigadier General Little—fulfill their roles.
“Colonel Hutcheson,” said Brigadier General Little, returning the salute. “You’ve followed my orders regarding yourself and your cadre?”
“I have, Sir,” replied Colonel Hutcheson, his white trimmed beard glowing blood orange red in the sunset light. “But we could help you more in battle.”
“Tactically, you could, Colonel Hutcheson.” Malcolm Little never referred to Paul Hutcheson by first name, in public or in private, as a matter of respect for the aging career officer. “But this is a battle we Negroes must lead.”
“I defer to your wisdom, Sir,” commented the Colonel gracefully. “The cadre assigned by General Patton is assembled at the two bridges.”
“Good. Beyond the bridges, you have weapons?”
“Enough for personal weapons for a third of the brigade, General. Nothing more than personal weapons—no heavy machine guns. Those were all deployed in defense of the city.”
“We reserved ten percent.”
“The bridges are ready to blow?”
“Yes, Sir. I inspected the charges’ placement and I find them adequate.”
“You were a Combat Engineer in France on liaison duty in the Great War, right, Colonel?”
“Yes, Sir, General Little.”
“First engagement, General. It’s coming from the north,” said Colonel Stalworth.
The officers turned their binoculars west. Sparks were flying in the sunset light from the frontal armor of Confederate and American tanks. A perfect hit caught an American light tank on fire. The tank following it maneuvered around it as its crew, mite-sized in the distance, bailed out. The tank off the road hit an anti-tank mine and burned fiercely.
“Colonel Hutcheson, thank you. Back to the bridges.”
“General Little, one request. It would be challenging for my officers to rally your men in emergency without one of your staff.”
The career officer, of course, was absolutely right. White Confederate officers would be tested greatly rallying retreating Negro Brigade troops.
“Of course. Colonel Stalworth, accompany Colonel Hutcheson. I assign you command of his group, seniority considered but waived. Listen to Colonel Hutcheson. Understood?”
“General, Sir, I request…”
“Is my order understood!”
“Yes, Sir,” said Colonel Stalworth, reluctantly.
“Very well. Dismissed.”
Colonel Stalworth and Colonel Hutcheson retreated down the spiral staircase. Master Sergeant Washington looked sadly at his young General. “It seems that you’re preparing for defeat, not victory, Sir,” he commented.
“Retreat is not defeat,” replied Brigadier General Little. “Things look grim. A few of our men may break. We’ll need to rally them to create a reserve. Now we can do that.”
“Are you sure?” asked Master Sergeant Washington. “It’s hard to rally men back to combat the same day.”
“My mother never told me that winning would be easy,” replied Brigadier General Little.
The battlefield had grown darker. The flashes of rifle fire sparkled like
fireflies to the west. A Molotov lit the
twilight, and the American medium tank burned even brighter just seconds later.
To the south, sparks flew. Both sides of Little Rock were engaged.