Analysis: Here we go gathering June wars

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   June 6, 2003 at 7:12 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- Three striking battle anniversaries fell this week on successive days. There is a simple but overlooked reason why they -- and other great conflicts -- were fought in the balmy days of June.

Wednesday, June 4 was the 61st anniversary of the Battle of Midway, when the U.S. Pacific Fleet sank four of the greatest aircraft carriers of the Japanese Imperial Navy, totaling transforming the dynamics of World War II across half the world. Thursday, June 5 was the 36th anniversary of the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, known in the United States and Israel as the Six Day War.

It redrew the maps of the Middle East and redefined its conflicts in ways that continue to reverberate today. And Friday, June 6 marks the 59th anniversary of D-Day -- the Anglo-American-Canadian invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in 1944.

The coincidence that these anniversaries fell on successive days in June is not entirely random. Wars in the 20th century usually started in the Northern Hemisphere in the late summer or fall -- like World War I, World War II and the Korean War -- after the harvest had been gathered in so that agricultural workers could then be conscripted. But huge climactic battles usually erupted in June or July.

It was in June 1940 that the final Nazi drive that conquered France came to its climax. The following year, Hitler unleashed his legions again in June for Operation Barbarossa, the biggest, bloodiest and longest single military campaign in modern history. And it was three years later to the very day -- and therefore also in mid-June -- that the Russian and other

peoples of the Soviet Union had their revenge when the Red Army launched Operation Bagration, the Destruction of the Wehrmacht's Army Group Center in the forests and swamps of Belorussia, modern Belarus.

There is a general reason why military planners prefer to launch military operations in the Northern Hemisphere in June. The days are the longest of the year. And ironically, this primeval ancient truth of the natural cycle has become more important with the advent of modern technology rather than less.

That is because until the advent of U.S. stealth aircraft and high-tech "smart" munitions over the past decade and a half, air power -- a 20th century innovation -- could only be employed against clearly defined specific targets by day rather than night.

Britain's Royal Air Force Bomber Command learned that lesson the hard way in its nighttime bombing campaign against Germany in 1942 and 1943. Early ambitions of systematically knocking out Germany's key industries by night had to be rapidly abandoned in favor of area bombing campaigns against entire cities at night because the technology did not exist to identify and

accurately bomb precision targets by night. It proved nearly impossible at that time to seriously hammer even entire cities that way.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the brilliant head of Japan's Imperial Navy, did not deliberately hold off his fateful drive to lure the U.S. Fleet into a climactic battle at Midway until the days were long. After all, he had boldly used the winter storms and squalls of the North Pacific to shield his strike force when it sank eight American battleships at Pearl Harbor half a year before. But Yamamoto knew that the balmier weather and -- most of all -- the long days of Northern Hemisphere summer would be a boon to his up-to-then invincible carrier air squadrons when they hunted out the remaining aircraft carriers of the Pacific Fleet at Midway.

It did not work that way. Thanks to the amazing damage control ship-workers at Pearl Harbor, the crippled U.S. carrier Enterprise, which by all rights should have been a dry-dock basket-case for months after the Battle of the Coral Sea, was made ready for a new mission within days of docking at Pearl.

As a result, Pacific Commander in Chief Chester Nimitz had three carriers to counter the Japanese strike at Midway instead of the two that the Japanese high command had sensibly assumed. That edge proved decisive.

The long days of June were also a boon to the Israeli Air Force when it wiped out the air forces of all the militarily significant Arab nations around it in rapid preemptive strikes on the morning of June 5, 1967. Tactically, those strikes came at the beginning of a long June day rather than the end of it. But by clearing the skies of the Middle East for Israeli air power so rapidly, they left a lot of daylight that day, and in the six days that followed, for the Israeli Air Force to pulverize massive Arab

armies, especially that of Egypt sitting in the Sinai Desert, which had suddenly become defenseless sitting ducks. The longer days of the summer solstice season made that a lot easier too.

Hitler had actually planned to invade the Soviet Union at least a month earlier than late June 1941. He was distracted by the diplomacy and military moves of Yugoslavia, Greece and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill into conquering the Balkans first. But this proved to be a boon when the long day of June 22, 1941 allowed the Nazi Air Force, the Luftwaffe, to

annihilate literally thousands of Russian aircraft on the ground. Long days allowed repeated air strikes in perfect flying conditions were important then too.

The Red Army had exactly the same advantage three years later when it trapped the heart of the German Army in the East in the Minsk pocket. By then, the Luftwaffe had been torn to shreds by the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force in the great spring daylight air battles over the German homeland in spring 1944.

The long days of June were just as important when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the green light for D-Day in June 1944. Excellent weather conditions were even more essential then for crossing the English Channel, one of the stormiest narrow straits in the world.

D-Day was launched in a miraculous lull after one of the worst summer storms in modern memory had lashed the British and French coasts. And in the days after D-Day, the Allied tactical air forces needed the long days of summer to repeatedly pound the German relief columns that rumbled up to drive the invasion back into the sea.

Over the past decade and a half, U.S. military technology and global supremacy has been so great that long periods of daylight have been un-necessary to facilitate operations. The air war that pulverized Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard in the 1991 Gulf War began in January. The second Gulf War this year that conquered Iraq in under three weeks was launched in

spring, in late March. And the Special Operations-driven campaign that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2000 was won in early winter.

The 1999 bombing campaign that drove the Yugoslav Army out of Kosovo promise was waged early spring too.

Does this mean we will see no more huge or decisive battles waged in the long days of June? It seems too soon to be sure. Not all wars end within weeks. Throughout history, many have dragged on for years. And when that next happens, the long days of summer may once again exercise their old, garish attraction as "The Killing Time."

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