Category Archives: infantry

14 March 1943; Kharkov Miracle

Russland-Nord, Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Today is the 70th anniversary of the accomplishment of one of the most impressive feats of arms in the history of warfare.  On the heels of a disastrous defeat in the Ukraine, German General Erich Manstein’s counterstroke against the Red Army regained the tactical initiative just two weeks after the situation, and perhaps the war itself, seemed irretrievably lost.   On 14 March 1943, I SS Panzerkorps recaptured Kharkov after a savage fight.  For those who had endured the loss of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad, it seemed a miracle.

Historical examination of the Eastern Front tends to identify the catastrophe at Stalingrad as the beginning of the end of the Wehrmacht in the East.  Certainly, with the loss of more than 300,000 men, including 92,000 prisoners, and the virtual annihilation of the Italian, Hungarian, and Rumanian forces north and south of Stalingrad on the Volga, Stalingrad was an unmitigated disaster.  And worse looked likely, as the forces of Vatutin’s (Southwest) and Golikov’s (Voronesh) Fronts pushed south down the Don River basin aimed at Rostov.  The loss of Rostov would effectively pin the remaining German forces (Army Group A and the remnants of Army Group B) against the Sea of Azov and the Dniepr bend, almost guaranteeing their destruction.

But in their efforts to destroy the German forces deep inside Soviet territory, Vatutin’s Sixth Army and First Guards’ Army (along with Mobile Group Popov), and Golikov’s Sixty-Ninth and Third Tank Armies became badly overextended.  In addition, Soviet intelligence on German force disposition was almost non-existent.   When most of the Wehrmacht forces slipped out of the bottleneck through Rostov, and Hausser’s I SS Panzerkorps abandoned Kharkov (counter to orders, on 15 February 1943), what seemed like another major Soviet victory was actually a precursor to near-disaster.

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On 18 February 1943, Manstein’s reconstituted Army Group South received permission for a counterstroke.  Led by 4th Panzerarmee (XLVIII Panzerkorps and I SS Panzerkorps), Army Group South struck on 19 February, and the poorly-disposed Soviet forces were thrown into panic.  When on 20 February 1st Panzerarmee and XL Panzerkorps began the destruction of Mobile Group Popov, a full-fledge disaster was in the making for the Soviets.

The counterstroke was a microcosm of the entire war in the East.  In open country, the German Army proved still infinitely superior to its Soviet opponent, even when significantly outnumbered. (Indeed, Manstein’s Army Group South was on the small end of a 1:1.2 force ratio when he launched his counterstroke.)  But in the defense, particularly within the built-up city of Kharkov, the Russian soldier’s toughness and determination made the fighting there a bloody affair.   Of 30,000 German casualties in this counterstroke, almost 12,000 were in the fight for Kharkov.

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Nevertheless, Manstein accomplished a seemingly impossible victory, pushing the Red Army virtually back to their starting points before the attacks to encircle Army Group South.   It was a pattern that the Soviet Stavka would become all too familiar with.  The Wehrmacht retained until the last days of the war the capability to counterattack and retrieve what seemed to be hopelessly lost situations, while inflicting heavy losses.  In the weeks between 19 February and 15 March, Soviet casualties were enormous, with the loss of more than 100,000 men (including about 40,000 prisoners), some 1,100 tanks, and 3,000 guns.  Much of Vatutin’s and Gorlikov’s armies were shredded, and would not be combat effective again for several months.

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To both the Germans and the Soviets, Manstein’s counteroffensive must have seemed like old times.  But, of course, they weren’t.  The Wehrmacht in the East, while still powerful and dangerous, was not the same as it had been in 1941 or even 1942.  And neither was the Red Army.

The squandering of the last significant German armored reserves against the Soviet defenses in the Kursk Salient in July of 1943 was followed by a devastating counteroffensive from Red Army forces staged to strike once the German Ninth Army and 4th Panzer Army had run out of steam at Kursk.  This counteroffensive was not the costly, awkward affair that had been evident in the wake of Stalingrad.  This was to be the model of the Soviet way of war until Berlin fell in 1945, and indeed, was the blueprint for Warsaw Pact tactics until the 1990s.   Massed artillery, attack aircraft, and highly mobile and powerful mechanized and tank formations would turn the Blitzkrieg tables on the inventors of the art.   Kharkov fell to the Soviets for good in August of 1943, and Army Group South would never again have any except very local initiative as it was pushed back inexorably toward the borders of the Reich.

But all that was yet to come, for on this date in 1943, impossible as it seemed, the Wehrmacht had regained the initiative, and had stopped, then routed, a massive Soviet offensive just six weeks after the surrender at Stalingrad.

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Counterinsurgency Words of Wisdom from Pete Ellis***

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There is a saying among historians that the best place to find a new idea is in an old book.   Time and again over the years, I have cracked open long-forgotten volumes to find gems of timeless and timely wisdom, astute commentary, and unimpeachable good sense.  Contained on those yellowed pages are answers to problems and challenges not at all different from contemporary times, and appreciations of conditions and factors that are surprising for their sophistication and insight.

In the March 1921 edition of The Marine Corps Gazette, then-Major Earl H. “Pete” Ellis penned an article entitled “Bush Brigades”, which dealt with the deployment of US Marine forces into areas in the Western Hemisphere in which instability and violence threatened US interests and the safety of the native populace.  These interventions, known collectively as the “Banana Wars”, were the basis for the seminal 1940 Small Wars Manual.  Interestingly, nearly two decades before SWM was published, Major Ellis struck upon a number of maxims that fairly leap off the page, and would have been excellent counsel for US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the minimum, Ellis’s words would have permitted today’s Officers and NCOs (and politicians!) to understand that the challenges and issues faced in the decade-long counter-insurgency fights were not new or unprecedented, but rather something with which US military thinkers had had to wrestle and solve for a significant portion of the previous century.  And in those words and the words of others might have been lessons and cautions that aided in success on the battlefield and in the newspapers.

The mercurial Major Ellis expounded upon a number of topics from large to small, that military thinkers would find highly relevant today.   I will attempt to do justice to the more salient of those topics below:

  • The character of enemy operations:

a)      A somewhat disorganized attempt to prevent landings.

b)      More or less resistance in cities followed by a race to the jungle.

c)       The organization and operation of armed bands, at first risking open battle and finally waging guerilla warfare.

d)      The operation of outlaw bands (bandits, ladrones, cacos) who murder members of the forces of occupation and their own people indiscriminately.

In general, enemy operations will be those of irregular forces or guerilla bands with the usual series of surprise raids, ambushes, and assassinations.  The enemy will have moral support from most of his own people, material support from many, and will operate in their midst. 

Replace “landings” in a) with “invasion”, and “jungle” in b) with “desert”, and you have a pretty accurate description of the course of things in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • The role of the press/media and the “peculiar attitude of the American people themselves”:

The Marines are down in Jungleland!- and killed a man in a war!

And the oft-forgotten fact that

…the Marines are only doing their job as ordered by the people of the United States.

  • The usefulness of cash payoffs to the locals:

…it must be emphatically stated that a flying column should never be sent into the bush unless amply provided with CASH.  With it can be purchased knowledge of the terrain and movement of the enemy, and food.  It is safe to say that at least 50 percent of the so-called harsh measures used in bush warfare could be eliminated by providing troops with adequate information money.

  • Considerations in the location of a fortified  post:

The site of the post should have, if possible, the following characteristics:

a)      Be capable of defense by a small detachment.

b)      Be of sufficient extent to permit the bivouac of … one hundred men, with mounted detachment.

c)       Permit control of any town in the vicinity and all approaches, especially roads and ravines.

d)      Have sufficient elevation to generally observe the surrounding country.

e)      Permit control of a landing field for aeroplanes.

The main requirement for a fortified post, garrisoned as it will be by only a few men, is that it cannot be rushed.

The above would have been a helpful guide to the Officers who decided to emplace COP Kahler Keating in Wanat.

  • What is now termed “Lawfare”:

To enforce one’s will upon an enemy of the nature depicted without subjecting one’s self to undue criticism is one of the most difficult tasks that can confront a soldier.   The “Rules of Land Warfare” lay down certain rules which are to be followed, subject to military necessity during hostilities between regular forces of civilized nations.  The “Rules of Land Warfare” for the guidance of regular forces engaged in hostilities with irregular or guerilla forces have never been written; and it is doubtful if they ever will be written…

  • “Phase Four” operations and “Information Dominance”:

It is the final phase which is difficult because, owing to the policy pursued, the following conditions will prevail to a greater or lesser extent:

a)      Bands of murderers and other criminals base in thick, difficult country, and prey indiscriminately on the peaceful people in the production areas.

b)      These bandits have no property other than that which they carry with them or keep in hiding.

c)       Many bandits, having been captured and turned over to proper authority, have been permitted to escape and have rejoined their bands.

d)      The inhabitants of localities frequented by bandits keep them informed of the movement of the force of occupation

e)      The forces of occupation are at a minimum.

Major Ellis’ article was never officially published by the Marine Corps (the Gazette is as then an MCA publication), but nonetheless provides context and narrative which our current generation of Officers and NCOs would find startlingly familiar a century hence.   As it would be to Napoleon’s veterans of the Peninsula War a century previous.

Most famous for his prescient divination of the character and requirements of the Pacific War yet to come, Ellis was no stranger to the counterinsurgency efforts of the Marine Corps in the early 20th Century, nor was he unversed in conventional war.  He had been plucked from Quantico by General Lejeune and was a key planner for the successful Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France in 1918.   Ponder.

*** Milblog writer/reader/commentor “Moe DeLaun” was most gracious in his gift to me of the March 1921 Marine Corps Gazette (along with a wonderful collection of Kipling by Somerset Maugham and the DVD of The Man Who Would Be King!)  There is much more in that March of 1921 edition that I will be sharing and commenting on over the next several months, including articles on Russia, American Marines in Nicaragua, and the Aisne-Marne Offensive of the late war.  THANKS MOE!

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Chinook

(Repost from 2009)

We’ve covered helicopters here before, such as the Huey, the Blackhawk, the OH-58 Kiowa and of course, Cobra and Apache gunships. Let’s talk about the big boy on the block. The Chinook. Or as it became known almost instantly in the Army, the Shithook. The CH-47 is the Army’s largest helicopter, used to transport critical logistical items, troops and artillery around the battlefield.

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The Chinook has been around for a long time. It’s first flight was in 1961. But the issues surrounding its development deserve a little attention. In the late 1950s, the Army and helicopter designers began to realize that piston engines would never become a very efficient way of powering helicopters. Gas turbines (jet engines that provided power through a driveshaft, rather than thrust) were finally becoming a practical option for military use. With the advent of these new engines, the Army took a long look at what the next generation of helicopters should look like. Just how big should they be? At the same time, the concept of “air assault” or landing troops directly on the battlefied started to form. What was the best way to move troop unit? Should you use a smaller helicopter that could lift a squad? Or would the better bet be to use somewhat larger helicopters that could lift 15-20 men?  Smaller helicopters would cost more in the long run, but losing one helicopter in the assault wouldn’t result in as many casualties. The Army first decided to go with the larger helicopter, of about 20 men. The Vertol Company (later bought by Boeing) provided the Model 107. But the debate in the Army over helicopter size raged on. Some thought that the new UH-1B Huey could be scaled up to carry a full squad. That would handle most air assualt requirements, and still have a relatively cheap helicopter. The Model 107 would be larger than was needed. The other half of the problem was moving artillery and supplies. The Model 107 was just a bit too small for that job. The ideal was to move a 105mm howitzer, its crew, and a load of ammunition all in one lift by one helicopter. Boeing went back to the drawing board. The Model 114 was the result, and was soon bought by the Army as the CH-47 Chinook. And it wasn’t very long before the Chinook found itself in Vietnam, as part of the airmobile 1st Cavalry Division.  With Hueys to conduct the initial assualt, and Chinooks bringing in the follow-on elements and moving artillery, the Army’s pattern of air assault missions was set so soundly that it is relatively unchanged 40-odd years later.

But don’t feel bad for the Model 107. Even though it wasn’t selected by the Army, its development continued. Largely because the Marines didn’t have a lot of space on the Navy’s helicopter carriers, they were forced to go with  a somewhat larger helicopter. And the Model 107 fit the bill perfectly. They bought it as the CH-46 and operate it to this day.

Early Chinooks had engines of about 2,200 horsepower each. This was very quickly upgraded to about 2,600hp each. And improvements didn’t stop there. The rotor blades, rear pylon design, and transmission were all upgraded through the A, B, and C models to improve performance.  In the 1980s, the design was again refreshed, with attention focusing again on more horsepower, but also greatly improved avionics and better reliability, resulting in the CH-47D. Many “D” models were conversions from older models, but there were also quite a few new built airframes. These were delivered up until 2002.  And right about the time the last “D” model was delivered, the work on the latest model moved into high gear.

The newest model, the CH-47F is really an old model. While there will be some newbuild airframes, most will be remanufactured CH-47Ds. And since most of the “D” models were remanufactured earlier models, there will be some airframes well over 30 years old that will be expected to soldier on for another 20. Because of this, a large part of the program will be rebuilding them to make them easier to maintain, reducing vibration, making sure the components don’t have any fatigue issues, and making any issues easier to detect. Improvements in the avionics will include updating the instruments to the latest common “glass cockpit” standard, as well as building in the cabapility of operating in the Force XXI digital environment, which is the Army’s version of a battlefield internet.  Not surprisingly, the Army is going with more powerful engines as well. The latest version of the Chinook engines put out almost 4,900 hp each. The Chinook has gone from a useful load of 7,000 pounds in its early days, to over 21,000 pounds in the “F” modeland the new models are faster. Think about that. How many of us are faster and stronger now that we’re over 40?

By now, you ought to have figured out that the ‘hook is a pretty capable helicopter. Lots of other folks have reached that conclusion as well. Very few other nations have the same air assault capability that we do, but having a few heavy lift helicopters around is handy for them as well. Several other nations, notable Great Britain, the Dutch, and the Japanese have bought various versions of the Chinook. When Great Britain attacked to recapture the Falklands in 1982, they lost several Chinooks aboard the Atlantic Conveyor. Their one remaining Chinook was put to work, doing the job of several helicopters. In one instance, instead of carrying its normal load of 55 troops, the sole Chinook lifted 105 fully loaded troops. There are several tales of Chinooks in the Vietnam war carrying over 100 people (though usually lightly loaded Vietnamese civilians). I’ve been in a Chinook with about 40 other people- I can’t imagine just how crowded it was with over 100.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that without  the Chinook, the Army in Afghanistan would be crippled. Many of the smaller outposts can only be reached by helicopter. Given the high elevations and hot weather there, Blackhawks, normally very capable birds, struggle to carry a useful load. The Chinook, with its greater power, is able to support these high/hot outposts.

With the new “F’ models just beginning to come into service, we can expect this long serving veteran to serve for as much as 30 more years.

Mind you, we’ve scrimped on discussing the gunship version, or the several special operations versions. But here’s  a last look at the bird for you.

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Army PFC Roosevelt Clark Laid to Rest after 62 Years

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The Bakersfield Californian tells the tale.

“My aunt and uncle are up in heaven, ecstatic that their son is home now,” said Leticia Maiden Carter, Clark’s cousin. “It’s a blessing from God.”

PFC Clark died when his company of the 35th Infantry was overrun by Chinese Communist Forces near Unsan in November of 1950.   His remains were identified in December, 2012.  Now, he is home and has been laid to rest with the honors befitting an American hero.  Most importantly, his family has closure, upon which no price can be placed.

You were not forgotten, and now your sacrifice can again inspire.

Hand Salute. 

Ready TWO!

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Fort Douaumont

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Ninety-seven years ago today, on 25 February, 1916, a company-sized patrol of the 24th Brandenbergers of the German 6th Infantry Division captured Fort Douaumont, the strongest of the Verdun forts.  Fort Douaumont sat atop the dominant high ground in the sector of the Western Front that German Chief of Staff Falkenhayn had chosen for an offensive which he rightly anticipated the French to respond to aggressively.   Just four days into the German offensive, the most important objective had been secured.  The French would endure an especially ghastly kind of hell in retaking it.

Verdun carried great national significance for the French, being the last of the fortifications to hold out in 1871, and had been reinforced throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  But with the destruction of the Belgian forts in 1914 by the German 42cm super-heavy gun-mortars, it was estimated by the French High Command that the Verdun forts were vulnerable to such bombardment.  The decision was made to strip these fortifications of most of their defensive cannon and a large number of machine guns, which were distributed in support of the French sectors elsewhere on the Western Front.

So when the Verdun offensive began on 21 February 1916, the fortifications there were skeletons of their true capabilities, and the initial German push by Kronprinz Wilhelm’s Fifth Army captured some 25 square miles, including Fort Douaumont, in the initial four days.

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Falkenhayn knew the French would fight for Verdun, and justified his offensive in these terms:

“Our precise problem is how to inflict heavy damage on the enemy at critical points at relatively small cost to ourselves.  But we must not overlook the fact that previous experience of mass attacks in this war offers little inducement to imitate them.”

He would induce the French Army into the killing fields, and “bleed them white”.

The study of the First World War, especially examination of the Western Front, is for me a most difficult task.   The quest to understand what the Great War did physically and emotionally to Western civilization has been a lifelong one.  As a student of military history (which I do fancy myself), the conduct of the war on the Western Front by the respective high commands fills me with a seething anger and revulsion.

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Especially at Verdun, one of the two great bloodbaths of that most terrible year of 1916 (the other being Picardy and the Somme madness under Haig),  those whose duty it was to provide a tactical and operational purpose to the expenditure of lives abjectly failed to do so.   Falkenhayn, with his ill-considered plan whose cost was supposed to be “relatively small”, and the criminal stupidity of Joffre, and Nivelle, who replaced the much more sensible Petain, and the arrogant and stubborn Mangin (nicknamed “the Butcher” by his men), all played their respective and reprehensible parts in the appalling losses at Verdun.

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Douaumont was not recaptured again until October, and the line not restored entirely until December 1916, by which time Falkenhayn had been replaced by Hindenburg, and Joffre by Robert Nivelle.  The latter was an exceedingly unfortunate choice.  The French High Command’s indifference to the terrible conditions and calamitous casualties at Verdun was a direct cause of the mutinies in the French Armies in May of 1917, when Nivelle’s disastrous offensives (enthusiastically supported by Mangin) spent the remainder of the flower of French youth against the teeth of German defenses.

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When the fighting in the Verdun sector petered out in late 1916, more than 300,000 French Poilus lay dead, and an equal number had been wounded.  German casualties totaled almost 450,000, of which almost 200,000 had been killed.   More than a million men, including half a million dead, for 75 square miles of shell-pocked wasteland, an area not much larger than the City of Boston.   The effects of the slaughter on the psyche of Western Democracies is still being felt.

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I have visited a small number of Great War battlefields, Vimy Ridge and the trench lines in Flanders.   Unlike the battlefields of the American Civil War, or World War II, there is little of the palpable feeling of reverence for the skill and heroism which accompanied the feats of arms there.  Rather, the overwhelming emotion is one of oppressive sadness and melancholy, much more similar to that which seems to permeate Dachau.   Though I have not been to Verdun, I strongly suspect that the young men on both sides whose lives were thrown away there would make it so, as well.  The profligate effusion of blood, especially on the part of the Allies, and the French at Verdun, is a crime for which the sentence is still being served.

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The Drone Medal and The People’s Defense Commissariat

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MOTHAX talks about all of it over at The Burn Pit.  Worth the read.

It’s been a pretty wild last couple of months for the Pentagon, especially for our outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta.  First he drops the bomb about the women’s combat unit exclusion policy going away.  Then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says that maybe the standard will have to be lowered so we can have more women in those units.  Dire predictions flow every day from the puzzle palace about the effect of sequestration on the ability to fight and win wars.  Then comes the suggestion that we lower troops pay.  But while we’re doing that, we’re also expanding benefits to the spouses of same sex couples, even though that might violate the Defense of Marriage Act.  Congress jumps in with hearings about what happened (or more accurately didn’t happen) to on the ground support of the Ambassador in Libya, and why the DOD didn’t have anything in place to help those men out.  We may, or may not, be setting up a drone base in western Africa, and the drones may or may not be used to kill Americans who are working with Al Qaeda based on the legal papers that were leaked by the DOJ.  And the nomination for Panetta’s replacement, Senator Chuck Hagel, is currently being filibustered. In April 170,000 retirees are being pushed out of Tricare Prime in the western States, and we’re still passing out flyers in Afghanistan discussing how being courteous to the locals will stop them from shooting at us.

Somehow this all added up to it being a good time to anger just about everyone not angered by the preceding by creating a medal for drone pilots that is actually higher up in the hierarchy of medals than things like the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Bronze Star….

He adds some excellent commentary from Fehrenbach circa 1950 and the problem with this whole idea of the “changing nature of combat”.

Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud.

I doubt anybody will be awarded the Drone Medal posthumously, unless it is from blood clots due to sitting too long.  Like I said, worth the read.   And a nice H/T to B5.

 

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OpFor Vismods

The National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA originally had a fairly simple purpose. Units tagged to deploy to Germany in case of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe would face an incredibly steep learning curve. By putting them through their paces at NTC, that curve could be flattened somewhat. It was very similar to the Air Force’s paradigm of Red Flag operations that would give squadrons their “first 10 wartime missions.”

At the time, one of the more radical concepts of NTC was the use of a full time Opposing Force* to model the size, tactics, and visual representation of a Soviet Motorized Rifle Regiment. Traditionally, units training in the field would face off against a sister unit. Not surprisingly, those units tended to use American tactics.  Worse, American units were equipped with American equipment, and distinguishing friend from foe on the battlefield was virtually impossible. One of the goals of NTC might be to sow confusion in the unit being trained, but that was taking it a bit far.

The OpFor at NTC went to great lengths to model themselves as the vanguard of the Evil Empire, going so far as to wear uniforms resembling the Soviets.

But equipping an entire Motorized Rifle Regiment (roughly equivalent to a US mechanized brigade) posed a bit of a challenge. When NTC opened in the late 70s, there wasn’t a lot of surplus Soviet equipment available on the market. What there were plenty of was M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles.  Less than satisfactory as light armor or recon vehicles, there were plenty of them available to equip the OpFor. Unfortunately, they didn’t look very Russian.

But by adding various plastic, fiberglass and other panels, a Sheridan could be given the rough visual outline of either a Soviet tank or BMP fighting vehicle.   Not surprisingly, these visual modifications quickly became known as VISMODS.

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M551 Sheridan pretending to be a BMP-1 IFV

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M551 masquerading as a T-80 tank

Now, even on the best of days, a Sheridan with with plastic wasn’t a dead ringer for any Soviet vehicle. But that’s kind of beside the point. It was sufficient that it was visually distinctive from American vehicles, and that the US unit under training could distinguish between tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and a few other types. That was important because the type and number of vehicles you see on any given spot on the battlefield can tell you a lot about what the enemy intentions.

And it didn’t really matter if the Sheridan’s weapon systems were very different from the vehicles they were portraying. Since the force on force gunnery at NTC was done via the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES), switching out the control box would allow a Sheridan to replicate virtually any direct fire weapon system, from machine guns, to tank guns to guided missiles.

So the Sheridan served the OpFor well through the 80s and into the 1990s.

But, you say, by the early 1990s, there was a ton of surplus Soviet armored vehicles available for dirt cheap. Why didn’t the Army just use those instead of modified American tracks?

We could have easily brought back enough Soviet (and Chinese) armor from Desert Storm to equip the OpFor with real vehicles. The problem would have been spare parts.  As reliable and rugged as Soviet designs were, they still needed a lot of spare parts. Providing a pipeline for those parts, training mechanics to repair  new vehicles, and training drivers and crews for them would have been prohibitively expensive.

By the mid 1990s, the Sheridan fleet was getting pretty tired. The supply of spare parts was pretty close to exhausted as well, and keeping the vehicles running was becoming more and more expensive. A replacement was needed, but there wasn’t a huge budget for one.

What the Army needed was a vehicle that was in plentiful supply, with a large, established spares pipeline. Buying new vehicles was out. What was there in the fleet that would be suitable?

The trusty M113 filled the bill. No longer in front line use as an infantry carrier, thousands of them still serve in various support roles. But having been replaced in mechanized infantry battalions left plenty of them to equip the OpFor.  But the square squat M113 didn’t look much like any Soviet vehicle.

A quick, relatively low cost program actually rebuilt about 120 M113s by adding some visual panels, but more importantly a power driven turret. Known as the M113 OSV (OpFor Surrogate Vehicle) these tracks form the backbone of the OpFor’s armored vehicle fleet.  The basic M113 hull and powerplant were identical to those in service. Most of the components of the turret were from the M2/M3 Bradley, so service, operation and spares were relatively low cost. Changing some outside fiberglass panels allows OSV’s to represent either tanks or the BMP-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

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While the OSV isn’t the only presentation of Soviet vehicles the good guys are likely to see.  BRDM recon vehicles are represented by modified Humvees.

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The OpFor at NTC isn’t the only OpFor. There are also full time opposing forces at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk, LA (geared primarily to light forces), and the Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hoehenfels, Germany. And while the VisMods form the main body of the OpFor, the Army does have a limited number of captured vehicles either for familiarization or occasionally to act as OpFor.

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The top frame of the pic is your humble scribe setting a Dragon missile simulator for the next mission.

Helicopters are also represented by the OpFor.

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Often times, the permanent OpFor needs to be augmented by “normal” forces. To differentiate these interim OpFor from the friendly forces, some minimal modifications are usually made.  In my days in Germany, we’d strap a painted 55 gallon drum on the top deck of our M113s. Tanks often carried drums on their rear deck, simulating the common Soviet Practice of carrying spare fuel there.  Since the full time OpFor at NTC has morphed into a real Combat Brigade Team, in addition to its OpFor duties, it also has access to the normal complement of combat vehicles of the Army. These can also be used to simulate a Soviet equipped force, though with considerably less fidelity.

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M1 KVT (Krasnovian Variant Tank) Krasnovia is the notional nation the OpFor represents.

In tight budget times, Opposing Forces are an attractive target for budget cutters. From a wide array squadrons, the Air Force, Navy and Marines have had their aggressor strength greatly diminished. But the effect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have actually worked to expand and diversify the Army’s OpFor , and while some cutbacks are inevitable, the Army will fight tooth and nail to maintain the core of its capability to present a realistic threat scenario to maneuver forces under training.

*Technically, now it is the Contemporary Operating Environment Force or COEFOR, but everyone still calls it the OpFor.

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Women in Combat Arms: The Perspective of a Warrior

The Late General Robert H. Barrow, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, winner of the Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Veteran of three wars, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, speaks on the notion of women in ground combat units.  Thirteen and a half minutes.  (The last three are dark screen.) Listen to it all.

Those who would dismiss General Barrow as hidebound, sexist, closed-minded, or any other of the various derogatory labels that tend to be employed by the feminists who push such agendas should feel a tinge of shame.  If they are capable of such, which I doubt.

Those who comprise the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly CJCS Dempsey, CSA Ordierno, and Marine Commandant Amos, should be ashamed of themselves.  They must know deep down that what a man like General Barrow asserts is the brutal truth.  Yet they have nodded their heads in enthusiastic agreement with their political masters as a sop to the feminists and progressives who despise our military and everything it stands for.  Gentlemen, you must do some serious soul searching.    You KNOW that General Barrow speaks an unvarnished truth honed by 41 years of wartime service and leadership of men in some of the most bitter combat of the 20th Century.   Are your current assignments and your careers so much more important than the lives of those you will unnecessarily risk to implement this corrosive policy?

The Commandant’s assertion that “we will maintain our high standards while ensuring maximum success for every Marine” smacks of the dishonesty of the “everyone gets a trophy” Left.   War, we damned well should know, knows no such considerations.   If we didn’t have such morally and intellectually bankrupt leadership spending so much time and money painting the Potemkin Village instead of training to win our nation’s wars, we would not find ourselves in the current fix.

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Orders

Believe it or not, during operations in the field, Army men don’t just run around willy-nilly doing whatever they want. They all actually are working according to a plan. It may be a good plan, or a bad one, but it is a plan nonetheless.

After 237 years, the Army has come up with a few ways of organizing the chaos of battle. Orders are one of the primary methods of doing that.

When a civilian hears the word “orders” they tend to think of an NCO telling a Private to drop and give him 20 or take out the trash or something. In an administrative sense, to “come down on orders” means to be transferred to another posting.  But in organizing and controlling operations in theater, “field orders” are the commanders method of control.  Cribbing from other armies, using its institutional knowledge, and a smidgen of common sense, the Army has set up a template for orders to ensure that units have the information needed, no important information is left out, and that errors in communication are minimized.  These templates, these field orders, control the lives of soldiers.

There are three primary types of field orders:

  1. Warning order
  2. Operations Order
  3. Fragmentary Order

Let’s take a brief look at each one.

—————————————————————————————————The Warning Order

The Warning Order (WARNO) is just that- a warning to subordinate units that an operation is forthcoming, and preparations must be made.  A brief description of the current tactical situation is given. Then the mission to be ordered is announced. For instance,  3/8 CAV attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 NLT 031545Z NOV  12  to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV. Any special preparations the unit needs to make should be listed, and the time and place where the actual operations order will be issued is given.

—————————————————————————————————

The Operations Order

The Operations Order is the meat and potatoes of planning in the Army. It’s the way a leader tells subordinates what is is he wants them to do.  From a squad leader planning a patrol, to Eisenhower invading France, every operation in the Army is planned using the Operations Order or OPORD. To make sure leaders hit all the high points, a standard template of the OPORD has evolved, a 5-paragraph format that the lowliest Private and the 4-star General both understand.

  1. Situation
  2. Mission
  3. Execution
  4. Sustainment
  5. Command and Control

Let’s take a slightly more in-depth look at the OPORD

1. Situation

Paragraph 1, Situation gives an overview of what the current tactical situation is. 

First off is Task Organization. For any given mission, most units will have teams or units attached or detached. Task Organization spells out just who will be attached or detached.

Next up is Enemy Situation. Who is the enemy? What is their strength? What operations do they have planned? What are they trying to accomplish?

Next is Friendly Forces- What is the mission of the next higher headquarters? For instance, 3/8 CAV, a part of the 3rd BCT of the 1st CAV Division, needs to know what brigade is up to.  What is brigade trying to accomplish? An overview of the situation of the other units of the brigade also follows (and if the units alongside are from another brigade or division, you need to know what they’re up to also, if only to avoid running into them).Lastly, what units are providing fire support? Is it just the organic mortars in the battalion, or is the Direct Support Artillery battalion available? Or are there even more artillery units available? How about close air support? We’re not talking yet about the specifics of what they’ll provide, just which players are in the game.

2. Mission

The mission paragraph of an OPORD is the 5W’s. The who, what, when, where, and why of the order. Remember this sentence above?

3/8 CAV attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 NLT 031545Z NOV 12 to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV

Let’s break that down into English for the civilians and folks like URR that struggle with jargon.

Who?  3/8 CAV -The 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

What?  attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 – The phrasing “to destroy” tells the unit that there objective isn’t Hill 781. By saying “to destroy” that says the key element is the enemy force, not the terrain. Had the order said “to seize Hill 781” that would mean the objective was to gain terrain. Here, our unit needs to key off the enemy force, rather than the terrain.

Where? Along Axis Anvil.**

When? NLT 031545Z NOV 12 . “No Later Than 3:45pm (Greenwich Mean Time) on the 3rd of November, 2012. Other units are on a timeline as well.  3/8 CAV has to launch its attack on time.

Why?  to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV-  The who, what, where, and when only tell a commander what he must do. The why tells the commander what he must accomplish.  There’s a little reading behind the lines involved here. While the commander of 3/8 CAV has been assigned the mission of destroying an enemy mech infantry company, the whole point is, the brigade commander is trying to pass the rest of the formation through an area. If 3/8 CAV destroys the company, but there is still an enemy unit or other reason that the brigade can’t pass, that tells the 3/8 commander his work isn’t done. If 3/8 CAV seizes Hill 781, but there’s no enemy company, the work isn’t done. The mission is to destroy that company. Conversely, if he can’t destroy the company, but can suppress it enough to allow passage of the brigade, well, that’s good enough.  3/8 CAV wasn’t assigned the mission of destroying the enemy company just to be bloody minded. The whole point is to allow the brigade to pass.

3.  Execution

Paragraph 3, Execution, is the “how” of the order.  The first part of paragraph three is the Commander’s Intent. The CI is unscripted, but is basically the end-state the commander desires, and explains the whole point of the operation and his vision for how the mission will be accomplished.

 

a. Concept of operations.

This is where the order actually describes how the mission will be conducted. The concept is detailed through each of seven providers of combat power. 
(1) Maneuver

The direct fires and  movements of a units organic and attached assets have to be synchronized in time and space. This subparagraph is often lavishly detailed via maps and graphics, to help visualize how the operation will unfold.

(2) Fires

Planning for indirect organic and supporting mortar, artillery and air support fires is a key element for any operation. Planning includes preplanned missions, prioritizing which subordinate units will get support, and listing the priority of unplanned targets. There are almost always more potential targets than tubes to  support a mission, so prioritizing helps ensure the most critical targets are hit, and support isn’t wasted on non-essential targets. URR will get around to writing in depth on the planning process one day. At my level, it was generally quite simple. At the battalion and above echelons, it becomes quite complex.

(3) Reconnaissance and Surveillance

Virtually every debacle on the battlefield the Army has ever suffered has been a result of poor reconnaissance/surveillance, and its partner intelligence. There’s an old German saying: “Time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.”  In fact, while R&S is detailed in the actual order, usually, almost as soon as the Warning Order has been received, the Scout Platoon is put to work.  The battalion may augment that effort with additional platoons from the maneuver companies, or with support from the Brigade Combat Team’s cavalry squadron, or UAV support. The most obvious goal of any R&S plan is to locate the enemy forces. But that’s only  a portion of the job. R&S also has to determine if the maps of the area are accurate. Are the roads trafficable by the unit’s vehicles? Are bridges still standing? Will they hold the weight of the unit vehicles? Are there any roads washed out? Has the enemy emplaced obstacles or minefields? The R&S effort is the reality check that the Operations Order relies on to ensure the plan is based on the real world.

(4) Intelligence

Intelligence is a two way street. Higher echelons will provide information and support (such as communications intercept teams) to our notional battalion. But our unit commander and higher echelons also use combat to generate intelligence. In addition to detailing what support the unit will receive, this sub-paragraph details the specific information units need to gather.

(5) Engineer

Engineer support is always critically short. There are always more tasks than engineers. By prioritizing which mobility, counter-mobility and force protection measures are critical, the limited engineer support can be prioritized to best support the mission. For instance, in our notional attack, engineer support would likely be focused on breaching any minefields or anti-tank ditches encountered. 

(6) Air Defense

Obviously, in the two wars of the 21st century, our troops haven’t had to focus much on AD. But if we didn’t have air superiority, this sub-paragraph would describe passive measures, such as camouflage, and active measures, such as Stinger missile teams, to limit the ability of enemy airpower to inhibit our own operations. 

(7) Information Operations

To be honest, we never had to deal with information operations in my day.

b. Tasks to maneuver units.

While the concept of operations described the overall scheme of maneuver, this tasking gives specific tasks to each of the subordinate companies and any independent maneuver platoons. For instance, Company A may be tasked to seize a hilltop short of the objective, and attack by direct fire, while Companies B and C are tasked to conduct the actual assault on  Hill 781.

c. Tasks to combat support units.
(1) Intelligence (2) Engineer (3) Fire Support (4) Air Defense (5) Signal (6) NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) (7) Provost Marshal (8) PSYOP (9) Civil military.

Similarly, specific jobs for each of these areas are detailed. Some will be routine, and addressed by the unit’s Standard Operating Procedure, but other taskings, particularly in engineering and fire support will be detailed every time.

d. Coordinating instructions.
(1) Time or condition when a plan or order becomes effective

(2) CCIR (Commander’s Critical Information Requirements)

(3) Risk reduction control measures

(4) Rules of engagement

(5) Environmental considerations

(6) Force protection

Much of this will be under the unit SOP, but for successful operations, the devil is often in the details. 

4. SUSTAINMENT

Sustainment is the term to cover all the logistical and administrative needs to keep the force in the field. Some are obvious issues, like getting fuel, food and ammo to the force. Others are less immediately obvious, like how to recover vehicles that are damaged or broken down. At the battalion level, much of this is standard operating procedure. But at higher echelons, where operations tend to be planned for a longer period of time, the plan has to be crafted in somewhat greater detail. For instance, a theater commander will have to concern himself with things like providing laundry and shower services, as well as replacement uniforms. Even providing support for payroll services has to be addressed. Troops may not have a lot of options for spending money, but they still want to be paid.

a. Support concept.

b. Materiel and services.

c. Medical evacuation and hospitalization.

d. Personnel.

e. Civil military.

5. COMMAND AND CONTROL (formerly Command and Signal)

Command is an art. Much as a painter can be taught to a certain level of competence, so to with command. But superlative command takes an innate, native ability. Fortunately, in most instances, the average level of competence is sufficient. Control is a science. It is the set of tools a commander uses to effectively conduct command.

a. Command.

Where will the commander be during the operation? Where will the other key leaders be? If there are casualties in the command group, what is the line of succession?

b. Control.

A large part of this section comes from the Signal Operating Instructions, which lists the frequencies to be used by each unit. A heavy battalion has several radio networks. The command net, the admin/logistics net, and the intel net. Further, the battalion also communicates with higher headquarters on their nets. Each subordinate company has its own radio net, as well as each platoon. This doesn’t even address the data networks that all units use now. Other control measures can also be used, such as pyrotechnic smoke and flares. Graphical control measures on the map are also, by used.

The Five Paragraph Operations order is “scaleable.” The basic format is used from the rifle squad to the highest echelons. Obviously, the higher you go, the more detailed the order. At platoon and squad level, the order is often given verbally (though every evaluator in the Army wants to see EVERY soldier write down, at a minimum, the mission statement and commanders intent).

The order is also something of a matroyshka doll. From our notional battalion operations order, each company commander will extract his mission and specific tasks, and write his own operations order for his company. His platoon leaders will then take that order, and write their own. In theory, so would each squad leader, but as a practical matter, platoon and squad orders tend to be repeats of the company order.

One great example of this series of orders coming from on high down to the lowest level is the invasion of Normandy. Every level of command, from the Allied Expeditionary Headquarters down to individual squads had their own, specific orders, with the lower orders all acting like a series of bricks to build the structure of the entire allied operation.

Since each subordinate needs to craft his own order, the rule of thumb is that a leader should use one third of the available time to craft his order, leaving two thirds of the time for his subordinate echelons to craft theirs, and prepare for the operation. Sadly, this is often honored more in the breach. But good staffs know to get as much information as possible to lower echelons as soon as possible to let them prepare as much as possible.

The final order format is the FRAGO, or Fragmentary Order.  When a change of mission occurs, or the situation on the ground changes, and the time doesn’t allow for the full order planning process, a fragmentary order is issued. It has no set format, though commanders are encouraged to use as much of the Operations Order format as feasible. It may be verbal or it may be written. At a minimum, it should contain the 5 W’s of the mission statement, and if at all possible, a commander’s intent.

 

 

*as opposed to other possible missions such as defend, or occupy, or conduct a movement to contact

**”Axis Anvil” is an example of a “graphical control measure.”  Units are given areas marked by boundaries, within which they can move. To control the movement of units, routes, axes, objectives and other arbitrary lines are drawn on the map. These measures are then given arbitrary code names. Axis Anvil might be the general flow of a valley, for instance. “Route Cinnamon” would be a specific road or pathway. They’re “graphical” in that in the age of paper maps, they were drawn on the map with grease pencils. Today, they’re computer graphics overlaid on a computer map.

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Heavy Hauler

This fellow is a Canadian, but the weights are pretty representative. And while C9 (the Canadian designation for a SAW)  gunners have a heavy load, they don’t carry the heaviest load in an infantry company.

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The Ordeal of USS Hugh W. Hadley

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0577417

As US Army and Marine forces reduced the island of Okinawa in the spring of 1945, the Japanese unleashed a desperate storm of suicide attacks, the infamous kamikaze, on the massed armada of supporting allied warships offshore.  It did not take the Japanese long to understand the significance of the line of destroyers that ringed the island, their air search radars detecting and warning of the approach of Japanese aircraft from Formosa, Kyushu, and other locations to attack the US 5th (later 3rd) Fleet.

Soon, duty on the Radar Pickets became among the most deadly and dangerous of the entire war.   “Roger Peter” stations were subject to withering attacks, as the Japanese sought to blind the Americans and strike the carriers and transports that supported operations ashore.   A grimly high number of US ships were sunk, with heavy loss of life, in order to maintain the ring of warning radars that shielded the invasion fleet.   Drexler, Bush, Emmons, Little, Morrison, Luce, Pringle, all were sacrificed to alert the fleet of the impending kamikaze strikes.  And Mannert L. Abele, smashed by two massive precision-guided missiles that portended a coming age.    Many other ships were savagely mauled, Aaron Ward, Hazelwood, the famous Laffey, Cassin Young.  Damaged so severely that their survival astonished those who witnessed their suffering.

On the morning of the 11th of May, 1945, USS Hugh W. Hadley DD-774, took up station at Roger Peter Station 15.   When the fateful hours had passed, Hugh W. Hadley had been struck by three suicide aircraft, and had lost 28 killed and 67 wounded.  Though her guns had downed more than twenty enemy aircraft, damage to Hadley was severe and extensive.  One of those aircraft which struck the destroyer was a piloted rocket bomb, the infamous Okha (“Cherry Blossom”) that had spelled doom for Abele.  (And referred to in the below report as “Baka”.)   With a warhead three times that of modern ASCMs and a dive speed of Mach .85, an Okha presented an incredibly formidable challenge.

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Okha('Baka')BombUnderGuardYontanAirfieldOkinawa

From here, I will let the Captain of that magnificent ship tell the story.  The following is Commander Mullaney’s Battle Report in full:

DD774/A16/a1
Serial O66
U.S.S. HUGH W. HADLEY (DD774)
c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California

15 May 1945

From:                        The Commanding Officer, U.S.S. HUGH W. HADLEY (DD774)

To:                             The Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet.

Via:                            (1) Commander, Task Group 51.5
(2) Commander, Task Force 51
(3) Commander, Fifth Fleet
(4) Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet.

Subject:                    ACTION REPORT – Action against enemy aircraft attacking
this ship, while on Radar Picket Station
Number Fifteen, off Okinawa, Nansei
Shoto, 11 May 1945.

Enclosure:                (A)  Executive Officer’s Report.
(B)  Fighter Director’s Report.
(C)  Battle Damage Report.

                                      Because of the large number of planes involved, in this extended engagement, the Commanding Officer appointed a Board of Officers to receive statements from key witnesses, verify all reports, prevent duplications and establish the  facts of the action in order to assist the Commanding Officer in making an accurate report. On this basis the below  report has been submitted.

                                                                                               Part I

            1.  The U.S.S. HUGH W. HADLEY (DD774) was assigned duty as RADAR PICKET SHIP AND FIGHTER DIRECTOR SHIP on Station #15 of Okinawa, Nansei Shoto, 10 May 1945.  Ships in company were the U.S.S. EVANS (DD552), LCS 82, LCS(L) 83, LCS(L) 84, and LSM(R) 193 as support ships.  The Evans turned over duties as Tactical Command to the Hadley.

            2.  The MISSION of this group of ships was to detect and report approaching enemy aircraft, to control the assigned Combat Air Patrol, and to prevent enemy planes from reaching the transport area at Okinawa.

            3.  On the night of 10 May, an enemy plane attacked our formation at 1935 and was taken under fire by both.  The Evans reported seeing it destroyed.  Throughout the night the ship was at General Quarters due to the threatening movements and a few attacks by enemy planes in the immediate vicinity of the formation.

            4.  On the morning of 11 May, at 0605, the Combat Air Patrol of twelve planes reported on station.  At about 0740, bogies were reported to the north-east.  At 0745, a large enemy float plane appeared through the mist and was taken under fire by both ships.  Soon, this plane headed away from the Evans and came directly for the Hadley which was about one and a half miles from the Evans.  This plane was shot down by the Hadley at the range of 1200 yards. .

            5.  At about 0755, numerous enemy planes were contacted by our instruments as coming towards the ship (and Okinawa) from the north, distance about 55 miles.  One division of CAP was ordered out to intercept.  Shortly thereafter, several enemy formations were detected, and the entire CAP was ordered out to intercept.  Our Fighter Director Officer in CIC has estimated that the total number of enemy planes were 156 coming in at different heights in groups as follows: Raid ONE 36, Raid TWO 50, Raid THREE 2O, Raid FOUR 20 to 30, Raid FIVE 20, Total 156 planes.

            6.  At about 0755 the entire Combat Air Patrol was ordered out in different formations to intercept and engage the hordes of enemy planes closing us and shortly we received reports from them that they had destroyed twelve planes.  Then they were so busy that they could not send us reports but we intercepted their communications to learn about forty to fifty planes were destroyed them.  CIC reported that there were no friendly planes within ten miles of this ship.

            7.  From this time on the Hadley and the Evans were attacked continuously by numerous enemy aircraft coming at us in groups of four to six planes on each ship. During the early period, enemy aircraft were sighted trying to pass our formation headed for Okinawa.  These were flying extremely low on both bows and seemingly ignoring us.  The Hadley shot down four of these.

            8.  The tempo of the engagement and the maneuver of the two destroyers at high speed was such as to cause the Hadley and the Evans to be separated by distances as much as two and three miles.  This resulted in individual action by both ships.  Three times the Hadley suggested to the Evans to close for mutual support and efforts were made to achieve his but each time the attacks prevented the ships from closing each other.  The Hadley closed the four small ships several times during the engagement.

             9.  From 0830 to 0900 the Hadley was attacked by groups of planes coming in on both bows.  Twelve enemy planes were shot down by the Hadley’s guns during this period, at times firing all guns in various directions.  The Evans which, at this time, was a distance of about three miles to the northward, was seen fighting off a number of planes by herself, several of which were seen to be destroyed.  At 0900 the Evans was hit and put out of action.  At one time toward the close of the battle friendly planes were closing in to assist us, the four support ships were prevented from shooting down two friendlies whom they they had taken under fire.  One plane was seen to splash inside their formation due to their own gunfire. however, I am not able to give an accurate account of their action.  They were very helpful in picking up my crew who were in the water, in coming alongside and removing wounded and in helping to pump.        

            10.  From this time on, the Hadley received the bulk of the attacks and action became furious with all guns firing at planes on all sides of the ship.  CIC reported that the SUGAR GEORGE radar scope was filled with enemy planes.  The Commanding Officer saw that the situation was becoming too much for one ship to handle and he ordered the Combat Air Patrol to close the formation and assist us.  With outstanding courage, our planes fearlessly closed the ships and attacked enemy planes.  They achieved great results and when the Hadley was finally helpless in the water our crew was sparked with renewed courage by the sight of airmen driving off the remaining enemy aircraft.

             11.  For 20 minutes, the Hadley fought off the enemy single-handed being separated from the Evans, which was out of action, by three miles and the four small support ships by two miles.  Finally, at 0920, ten enemy planes which had surrounded the Hadley, four on the starboard bow under fire by the main battery and machine guns, four on the port bow under fire by the forward machine guns, and two astern under fire by the aft machine guns, attacked the ship simultaneously. All ten planes were destroyed in a remarkable fight and each plane was definitely accounted for.  As a result of this attack, the Hadley was: (1) Hit by a bomb aft (2) By a BAKA bomb seen to be released from a low flying BETTY (3) Was struck by a suicide plane aft (4) Hit by a suicide plane in rigging.

              12.  The ship was badly holed and immediately both engine rooms and one fireroom were flooded and the ship settled down and listed rapidly.  All five-inch guns were out of action, a fire was raging aft of number two stack, ammunition was exploding, and the entire ship was engulfed in a thick black smoke which forced the crew to seek safety, some by jumping over the side, others by crowding forward and awaiting orders.  The ship was helpless to defend herself and at this time the situation appeared hopeless.  The Commanding Officer received reports from the Chief Engineer and the Damage Control Officer which indicated that the main spaces were flooded and that the ship was rapidly developing into a condition which would capsize her.  The exploding ammunition and the raging fire appeared to be extremely dangerous. The engineers were securing the forward boilers to prevent them from blowing up.  The order to “prepare to abandon Ship” was given and life rafts and floats were put over the side.  A party of about fifty men and officers were being organized to make a last fight to save the ship and the remainder of the crew and the wounded were put over into the water.

              13.  From this point on, a truly amazing, courageous and efficient group of men and officers with utter disregard for their own personal safety approached the explosions and the fire with hoses and for fifteen minutes kept up this work.  The torpedoes were jettisoned, weights removed from the starboard side and, finally the fire was extinguished and the list and flooding controlled and the ship was saved.  Although the ship was still in an extremely dangerous condition, one fireroom bulkhead held and she was finally towed safely to the IE SHIMA anchorage.

               14.  The total number of enemy planes destroyed by the Hadley in this period, of one hour and thirty-five minute of continual firing was twenty-three.  This number includes twenty shot down to the water and three suicide hits.

               15.  Our mission was accomplished.  The transports at the Okinawa anchorage were saved from attack by one hundred and fifty sixty enemy planes by the action of our ships.  We bore the brunt of the enemy action and absorbed what they threw at us. It was a proud day for Destroyer men.

PART II

                 The U.S.S. HUGH W. HADLEY (DD774) was OTC of a force consisting of two destroyers, three LCSs and one LSM. In order to achieve maneuverability and concentrated gunfire the following formation was ordered: the four support ships to a diamond formation on a circle one thousand yards in diameter, speed ten knots, reversing course every half hour; the destroyers in a column distance fifteen hundred yards, speed fifteen knots.  When attacks commenced both destroyers increased speed to twenty seven knots and maneuvered in vicinity of supports to concentrate gunfire.

PART III

                  WEATHER: Wind and sea calm, visibility to the north and east unlimited, visibility to the west cloudy and mist haze.  During the attack the force maneuvered to the east and south to get out of the misty haze in order to see the enemy planes more clearly.  The haze to the west would not have prevented the enemy planes from seeing us.

                  Communications: Communications were satisfactory in all respects during the battle except that gunfire caused the jacks to pop out of the receiver panel in the radio central feeding radio to CIC. 

                                                                                                 PART IV 

                   ORDNANCE:  A. The performance of ordnance material and equipment was excellent.  The fire discipline was strict, gunnery communications rapid and effective. Ammunition expended:

   509 rounds 5″ 38 Caliber VT
   292 rounds 5″ 38 Caliber AA
 8950 rounds 40MM HET 
 3980 rounds 20MM HEI
 2010 rounds 20MM HEIT
   801 charges smokeless power

                    B.  The first bomb estimated to be a medium bomb, exploded with considerable flash killing a defense personnel topside aft.

                       2.  The suicide plane hit aft number two stack and plunged to the deck below.  There was a tremendous explosion from this crash which result in a raging fire with ammunition exploding.  The topside compartments in this area were all completely wrecked.

                       3.  BAKA BOMB this is the bomb which put the ship out of action.  It was led in a raging fire with ammunition exploding.  It was released from a large lumbering BETTY which came in from astern during the final attack, altitude about 600 feet.  The bomb appeared to be about one and one half times as large as a 21″ torpedo.  On each side were very short stubby wings about one third the usual wing length of a lane.  There was no engine.  The bomb struck the ship on the starboard side at frame number 105, which is the bulkhead between forward engine room and after fireroom.  The explosion from this bomb terrific and some decks were lifted about twenty inches causing ankles and knees to be broken or strained.  Three large engineering spaces were immediately flooded and the ship settled in the water rapidly.  Another result of this explosion was to put all equipment including the 5″ guns out of action.

                                                                                             PART V

                      A.  Damage to our own ship -see Battle Damage Report.

                      B.  Battle damage to enemy units: Twenty-three enemy planes destroyed as follows:

Time ( approximate)  Relative Bearing    Distance    Number
0745    090 1500 yards            1
0800    270 6000 yards closing         2
0810    050 4000 yards closing         2
0825    060 4000 yards closing         2
0835    060 4000 yards closing         2
0835    270 Dive         1
0845    060 3-4000 yards closing         2
0845    225 Dive         1
0905-0920    045 Dive         4
   270 Dive         4
   180 Dive         2    

                                                                                               PART VI

                      ENEMY TACTICS:  The enemy planes employed no special tactics except during the final attack to surround the ship and dive simultaneously.

                      OWN TACTICS: The ship was maneuvered at twenty-seven knots constantly using the rudder to present the maximum guns to the enemy.  One dive bomber at 0835 was missed by putting hard rudder over when the plane was 1000 yards above us coming in.  The stern was swung away from his point of aim and he crashed twenty feet from the ship’s stern.

                                                                                                PART VII

                      PERSONNEL PERFORMANCE AND CASUALTIES:

                      1.  Killed in action twenty-eight; wounded in action sixty-seven; missing in action none.

                      2.  No Captain of a man of war ever had a crew who fought more valiantly against such overwhelming odds.  Who can measure the degree of courage of men, who stand up to their guns in the face of diving planes that destroy them?  Who can measure the loyalty of a crew who risked death to save the ship from sinking when all seemed lost?   I desire to record that the history of our Navy was enhanced on 11 May 1945.  I am proud to record that I know no record of a Destroyer’s crew fighting for one hour and thirty five minutes against overwhelming enemy aircraft attacks and destroying twenty three planes. My crew accomplished their mission and displayed outstanding fighting abilities.  I am recommending awards for the few men who displayed outstanding bravery above the deeds of their shipmates in separate correspondence.  Destroyer men are good men and my officers and crew were good destroyer men..

                     3.  It can be recorded that the aviators who comprised the Combat Air Patrol assigned to the Hadley gave battle to the enemy that rank with the highest traditions of our Navy’s history.  When the leader was asked to close and assist us, he replied, “I am out of ammunition but I am sticking with you”.  He then proceeded to fly his plane at enemy planes attacking in attempt to head them off.  toward the end of the battle, I witnessed one Marine pilot attempting to ride off a suicide plane.  This plane hit us but not vitally.  I am willing to take my ship to the shores of Japan if I could have these Marines with me.

                                                                                                PART VIII

                      LESSONS LEARNED, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:

                      1.  It must be impressed that constant daily drills in damage control using all personnel on the ship and especially those who are not in the regular damage control parties will prove of  value when emergencies occur.  The various emergency pumps which were on board were used effectively to put out fires.  Damage control schools proved their great value and every member of the crew is now praising this training.

                      2.  I was amazed at the performance of the 40 and 20 guns.  Contrary to my expectation, those smaller guns shot down the bulk of the enemy planes. Daily the crews had dinned into their minds the following order “LEAD THAT  PLANE”.  Signs were painted at the gun stations as follows “LEAD THAT PLANE”.  It worked, they led and the planes flew right through our projectiles.

                      3.  The Commanding Officer recommends that the torpedoes be removed from ships which are assigned Amphibious and Radar Picket duties.  He believes that what is left of the enemy fleet will be taken care of by other Task Forces, or the Air.  Replace the heavy weights of torpedo mounts with larger CIC, more RADAR and 40mm gun mounts. In order to function properly, Radar Picket Ships must be loaded with special equipment.  In other words, he believes that amphibious ships who are to be assigned to this duty should be specially equipped for this duty and not just generally equipped for regular destroyer duty.

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cc: ComDesRon66
ComDesPac

There is much discussion these days regarding many things Navy.    The nature of combat in the littorals.  The necessary firepower to defeat a saturation attack.   Networking a force.  The level of training and proficiency of ships’ crews, the size of those crews, the necessity to operate, fight, and perform damage control simultaneously.    The imbuing of a spirit of courage and sacrifice, and a warrior ethos necessary to endure the furnace of combat.  And the value of a tough, powerful, sturdy, versatile warship that can dish out and take the punishment,  and bring her crew home.

The Captain’s touching tribute to his Sailors should be learned verbatim by every Sailor in our Navy.  And his praise of pilots of the CAP show that integrated operations were not invented after Goldwater-Nichols.

I am in awe of the Sailors and Officers of Hugh W. Hadley.   Should there be any still with us today, they would tell you that they are not heroes.   But I can think of no better definition of the word.

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An Open Letter to the Commandant Regarding the “Alcohol Policy”

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General Amos,

You are the senior Marine in our beloved Corps, holding a position entrusted to just 34 other men over the glorious history of our Sea Service.  You are not the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, or of the Army.  Nor are you Chief of Naval Operations.  You are the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Your Marines have shed their blood and wrapped themselves in glory on battlefields in two wars.  Look out among the faces of your junior NCOs, your junior Officers, SNCOs, and Field Grade Officers, and you will see Combat Action Ribbons aplenty.  Purple Hearts.  Sprinklings of Bronze Stars and Silver Stars, and even a Navy Cross here and there.  Living Marines wear Medals of Honor from these wars.   More have been presented posthumously to parents of fallen heroes who displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of [his] life above and beyond the call of duty, and whom gallantly gave his life for his country.

And then we, YOU, subject them to this:

The Washington Times reported earlier this week that the Corps sent a Dec. 12 message to commanders officially beginning mandatory breath tests for all 197,000 Marines twice each year.

A reading of just .01 percent subjects a Marine to counseling. A Marine who registers a .04 must be examined by medical staff for fitness for duty.

The Marine memo calls a “positive test result” a reading of .01 or greater, which results in automatic “screening and treatment as appropriate.”

They write with their blood and courage another glorious chapter in the long and storied combat history of the Marine Corps, and you treat them like children.  Under a teetotaling and stiff-necked schoolmaster.  Now, I don’t think you thought of this folly on your own.  Secretary of the Navy Mabus has been pushing this horrendously ill-advised plan for some time in the Navy.   Somewhere along the line, you or those who advise you, including your SgtMaj, decided that the Corps does things tougher and stricter than everyone else.   Someone forgot to tell you (and them) that when it comes to stupidity, that is not such a good idea.

“It’s possible if a Marine goes to a bar and is drinking a substantial amount of alcohol over the course of an evening, and he gets himself to a BAC of 1.5 or 2.0, if they are tested first thing in the morning when they report to duty, they may still have some alcohol in their blood and test positive,” he added.

General Amos, that scenario will encompass a great majority of your Marines from time to time, and will have included yourself and most of your General Officers at one time or another.   That is, if you are honest with yourselves.  These are MARINES, warriors, MEN (and WOMEN), who work hard, fight hard, and play hard.  You should know that.  If not, take those aviator wings off and hump a 60mm mortar plate around with 2/6 for a while to remind yourself.  Bring your SgtMaj, too.  And bring your Kipling.
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
Leaders understand that sentiment, leaders of Marines, especially.   You had a choice, General.
You could have put your rank on the table and told SecNav, “Not in MY Corps!  Not while I am Commandant!  I will treat my Marines like the combat-hardened veteran men and women they are, not like schoolchildren!”, and taken your chances with the personal repercussions.  You would have earned the eternal respect and gratitude of the 197,000 marvelous Marines you are supposed to lead.
Or, you could have said “three bags full!” and put in place nonsensical, unfair, and insulting measures that display openly your lack of trust in your Marines.  Sadly, that is the course you chose.   And it will earn you the resentment and mistrust of your Marines.  Because that trust thing is still a two-way street, even when you wear four stars.
Marines who have problems have plenty of avenues for help, and good leadership at the NCO and junior Officer level suffices to get them on the straight and narrow, or to face the consequences of not doing so.  Just as it always has.  For the most senior of our leadership to demand treating everyone as offenders speaks volumes about that senior leadership, none of it good.
I have served under Marine Commandants since General Barrow.   I do believe few or none of them would have made the choice you did.   And that is telling.   The magnificent Marines of our Corps, Officer and Enlisted, deserve leadership that displays moral and physical courage.  Lord knows, they have shown you ample amounts and then some.   Show them the same, or find another job.

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Bill’s “Smelly”

S. M. L. E., actually.  Short Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Number 1 Mark III, to be precise.  With the Pattern of 1903 sword-bayonet.    It is the rifle, and not the magazine, by the way, that makes the weapon “short”, being some 4.5″ shorter than the Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark I, which it replaced in service starting in 1907.

 

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This is the rifle Bill asked me to have a look at and clean up a bit.  For which he was most generous and grateful.   She was pretty humble when brought to me, caked with rust, dirt, and residue in the crannies of long-ago applied cosmoline.  The stock, while beautifully showing years of oiling, cleaning, and handling (in a good way), had major damage on the fore-end portion.  Got the new piece in from Numrich last night, and with a little bit of fitting (a SHARP chisel beats all) got her back together and ready for use.  As soon as I figured out how to properly re-assemble the safety latch, thanks to some online help!  Some oiling of the untreated wood of the new stock followed.  I used almond oil, of all things.  It is used on guitar necks and is thin enough to soak into the wood and not leave a greasy surface to handle.  Three coats, and that stock fore-end looked like it had been on there for decades.

She is a wonderfully balanced piece, with a pivoting V-cut rear sight and a barleycorn front sight.  The distinctive snout (nosecap, technically) took considerable work to get passable.  And there is still some that should be done.  CLP will help dissolve some of the oxidation, and a brass chamber brush will help.   The bayonet, while rusty, was razor-sharp, and in perfect condition.  A good soaking in solvent, and then CLP, did the trick.

The first photo is the rifle itself.  The second shows the bolt, bolt handle, action, and guide bridge.   One of the business end, muzzle and nosecap, and one of the business end with the sword-bayonet attached.  The last shot is Bill’s Great War veteran with my No 4 Mk I from the Second World War above it.  Mine was made in Canada and was much more of a cleanup project than Bill’s.   I paid $15 for it at Rose’s Department Store on Lejeune Boulevard in Jacksonville NC.  It was so rusty I had to use a rubber mallet to get the bolt open.  But once cleaned up, has been an incredibly enjoyable (and accurate!) shooter.

Now that I have had a chance to work with Bill’s wonderful rifle, I will be seeking one of my own.  Need it?  Nope.  Want it.   A smooth and handy rifle, and a piece of history to be sure.

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Paper-thin super material stops flying bullets

Great article about bulletproofing efforts at MIT and Rice University.  One has to wonder how much such material can lighten up the body armor our folks wear into combat, including the helmet, while increasing ballistic protection.  Especially if they can keep the cost below a jillion dollars per Marine.

The material will have to be extensively tested, obviously.  This includes the crucial “Lance Corporal Using the Helmet to Hammer in Engineer Stakes” test.    But Marines have been begging for a helmet that is ballistic proof against 7.62×39, without excessive weight that makes extended wear a problem.

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Veterans Day

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So today is Veterans Day. Today, dear friends, is not a day for mourning, but rather a day to remember the service of American veterans of all wars. Come Memorial Day we shall mourn our dead. Today, let us celebrate life instead.

Veterans Day is a relatively new observance. The holiday started out as Armistice Day, first observed in 1926 to commemorate the end of WWI. It wasn’t until 1954 that the observance was extended to veterans of all wars.  For  a brief time, 1971-1975, Veterans Day was observed on the closest Monday to November 11th, but thankfully, that foolishness went by the wayside and we now observe this day on the proper calendar date.

I don’t have any big plans for the holiday. I’ll celebrate the way I usually do, with quiet thanks for the opportunity to have served this great nation. Interestingly, while I was serving, I never did get Veterans Day off.

As you go about your day, either at work or leisure, take a moment to thank any veterans you know.

Update: As I’m currently sick as a dog, this is a repost of the first Veterans Day post on the blog, from 2008.

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Farewell, Sergeant Major Plumley

Sad news out of Columbus, Georgia that Basil Plumley, the legendary hard-core Sergeant Major immortalized in the film “We Were Soldiers”, has passed away at age 92.    Thirty-two years in the US Army in three wars.  Five combat jumps.  And a reputation for toughness and for demanding excellence from his soldiers that made him feared and admired as only the most superb of combat leaders can be.

He, and his generation, are leaving us in heartbreaking numbers.  They will be missed.

“The strife is o’er, the battle done.”

 

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Transformation

The only kind that matters.  The rest is fluff.

The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness bows down to wood an’ stone;

‘E don’t obey no orders unless they is ‘is own;

‘E keeps ‘is side-arms awful: ‘e leaves ‘em all about,

An’ then comes up the Regiment an’ pokes the ‘eathen out.

 

All along o’ dirtiness, all along o’ mess,

All along o’ doin’ things rather-more-or-less,

All along of abby-nay, kul, an’ hazar-ho,

Mind you keep your rifle an’ yourself jus’ so!

 

The young recruit is ‘aughty — ‘e draf’s from Gawd knows where;

They bid ‘im show ‘is stockin’s an’ lay ‘is mattress square;

‘E calls it bloomin’ nonsense — ‘e doesn’t know, no more –

An’ then up comes ‘is Company an’kicks’im round the floor!

 

The young recruit is ‘ammered — ‘e takes it very hard;

‘E ‘angs ‘is ‘ead an’ mutters — ‘e sulks about the yard;

‘E talks o’ “cruel tyrants” which ‘e’ll swing for by-an’-by,

An’ the others ‘ears an’ mocks ‘im, an’ the boy goes orf to cry.

 

The young recruit is silly — ‘e thinks o’ suicide.

‘E’s lost ‘is gutter-devil; ‘e ‘asn’t got ‘is pride;

But day by day they kicks ‘im, which ‘elps ‘im on a bit,

Till ‘e finds ‘isself one mornin’ with a full an’ proper kit.

 

Gettin’ clear o’ dirtiness, gettin’ done with mess,

Gettin’ shut o’ doin’ things rather-more-or-less;

Not so fond of abby-nay, kul, nor hazar-ho,

Learns to keep  ‘is ripe an “isself jus’so!

 

The young recruit is ‘appy — ‘e throws a chest to suit;

You see ‘im grow mustaches; you ‘ear ‘im slap’ is boot.

‘E learns to drop the “bloodies” from every word ‘e slings,

An ‘e shows an ‘ealthy brisket when ‘e strips for bars an’ rings.

 

The cruel-tyrant-sergeants they watch ‘im ‘arf a year;

They watch ‘im with ‘is comrades, they watch ‘im with ‘is beer;

They watch ‘im with the women at the regimental dance,

And the cruel-tyrant-sergeants send ‘is name along for “Lance.”

 

An’ now ‘e’s ‘arf o’ nothin’, an’ all a private yet,

‘Is room they up an’ rags ‘im to see what they will get.

They rags ‘im low an’ cunnin’, each dirty trick they can,

But ‘e learns to sweat ‘is temper an ‘e learns to sweat ‘is man.

 

An’, last, a Colour-Sergeant, as such to be obeyed,

‘E schools ‘is men at cricket, ‘e tells ‘em on parade,

They sees ‘im quick an ‘andy, uncommon set an’ smart,

An’ so ‘e talks to orficers which ‘ave the Core at ‘eart.

 

‘E learns to do ‘is watchin’ without it showin’ plain;

‘E learns to save a dummy, an’ shove ‘im straight again;

‘E learns to check a ranker that’s buyin’ leave to shirk;

An ‘e learns to make men like ‘im so they’ll learn to like their work.

 

An’ when it comes to marchin’ he’ll see their socks are right,

An’ when it comes: to action ‘e shows ‘em how to sight.

‘E knows their ways of thinkin’ and just what’s in their mind;

‘E knows when they are takin’ on an’ when they’ve fell be’ind.

 

‘E knows each talkin’ corp’ral that leads a squad astray;

‘E feels ‘is innards ‘eavin’, ‘is bowels givin’ way;

‘E sees the blue-white faces all tryin ‘ard to grin,

An ‘e stands an’ waits an’ suffers till it’s time to cap’em in.

 

An’ now the hugly bullets come peckin’ through the dust,

An’ no one wants to face ‘em, but every beggar must;

So, like a man in irons, which isn’t glad to go,

They moves ‘em off by companies uncommon stiff an’ slow.

 

Of all ‘is five years’ schoolin’ they don’t remember much

Excep’ the not retreatin’, the step an’ keepin’ touch.

It looks like teachin’ wasted when they duck an’ spread an ‘op –

But if ‘e ‘adn’t learned ‘em they’d be all about the shop.

 

An’ now it’s “‘Oo goes backward?” an’ now it’s “‘Oo comes on?”

And now it’s “Get the doolies,” an’ now the Captain’s gone;

An’ now it’s bloody murder, but all the while they ‘ear

‘Is voice, the same as barrick-drill, a-shepherdin’ the rear.

 

‘E’s just as sick as they are, ‘is ‘eart is like to split,

But ‘e works ‘em, works ‘em, works ‘em till he feels them take the bit;

The rest is ‘oldin’ steady till the watchful bugles play,

An ‘e lifts ‘em, lifts ‘em, lifts ‘em through the charge that wins the day!

 

The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness bows down to wood an’ stone –

‘E don’t obey no orders unless they is ‘is own.

The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness must end where ‘e began

But the backbone of the Army is the Non-commissioned Man!

 

Keep away from dirtiness — keep away from mess,

Don’t get into doin’ things rather-more-or-less!

Let’s ha’ done with abby-nay, kul, and hazar-ho;

Mind you keep your rifle an’ yourself jus’ so!


-Rudyard Kipling, "The 'Eathen"

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A Wider European War

Brad yesterday highlighted the final act of the Second World War, the formal surrender proceedings on the quarterdeck of USS Missouri, on 2 September 1945.    The defeat of the Axis powers was complete at long last, the end of a six-year nightmare which extinguished the lives of almost forty million souls.

Today marks the seventy-third anniversary of the affirmation that the German invasion of Poland had brought about the “wider European war” that a generation of French and British statesmen and diplomats had bargained so assiduously to avoid.   At 11:15 AM, London time, on 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spoke from Number 10 Downing Street to a somber and apprehensive, but resolute, Britain:

This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11.00 a.m. that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.  I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.

You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different I could have done and that would have been more successful.

Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between Germany and Poland, but Hitler would not have it.  He had evidently made up his mind to attack Poland whatever happened; and although he now says he has put forward reasonable proposals which were rejected by the Poles, that is not a true statement.

The proposals were never shown to the Poles nor to us; and although they were announced in a German broadcast on Thursday night, Hitler did not wait to make comment on them, but ordered his troops to cross the Polish frontier.

His actions show convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.

The Western Democracies, France and England, had spent the majority of the previous half-decade negotiating with a cruel and despotic dictator whose virulent anti-semitism and design for world domination had been lain open in Mein Kampf for all to see and read.

They were concerned but unmoved when Austrian Nazis with ties to Germany’s Third Reich assassinated Chancellor Dollfuss in 1934.

They had stood idly by when, in 1935, Hitler unilaterally abrogated the Versailles Treaty and began to build the weapons and forces expressly forbidden by that treaty.

They were paralyzed by fear and inaction when Hitler’s nascent Wehrmacht reoccupied the Rhineland in March of 1936, and when Germany swallowed Austria with the Anschluss two years later.

In the early Autumn of 1938, Chamberlain and France’s Edouard Daladier, being desperate to avoid the war that Hitler demanded, dismantled Czechoslovakia at Munich, and handed it to Der Fuhrer in the most notorious act of appeasement in the entire sordid Allied failure.

The spectacle of Chamberlain, arriving in the rain to wave the Munich Agreement and proclaim “Peace in our time” was a travesty of responsible statesmanship and a stain on the Western Democracies that has not faded appreciably in the seven and a half decades hence.

Despite the warning cries from an Essex back-bench MP whose time on the world stage had seemingly passed, both the French and British leaders clung to the absurd hope that Hitler was being forthright in claiming that the Sudetenland represented his “last territorial claim in Europe”.

 

Of course, he was not.  Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March of 1939, and turned it sights to the “oppression” of the German minority population in the “free city” Port of Danzig, on the Polish border.    When the German armor rumbled through the Polish defenses on 1 September 1939, neither Britain nor France had any choice.   And when Hitler ignored British pleas to cease military operations immediately and return all forces to the German side of the border, the “wider European war” that had terrified the Western Democracies into inaction and appeasement was upon them.   German forces would not return to the German side of the Polish border until the Soviet armies of the 1st Byelorussian and 1st Ukrainian Fronts smashed across the Oder in the first months of 1945.  By that time, the damage had been done, and Europe had been awash in blood for more than five years.

So, on the morning of 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was impelled to admit to England and the world that his course of appeasement and accommodation had failed.   Chamberlain was forced to verbalize the conclusion that eventually must be reached regarding every dictator who desires wars of conquest and extermination;  one that, had it been acknowledged five years earlier, might have saved Europe perhaps the greatest and most preventable tragedy of its long history:

His actions show convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.

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Sailors to the End

Since Byron mentioned Damage Control in the comments, I thought I’d repost this from the early days of the blog.

I’ve just finished reading Sailors to the End, a book that tells the story of the tragic fire aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal in July, 1967. I didn’t find the book all that well written, which is a shame because the valor of the sailors on that ship is a tale that should be told far and wide.

On July 29, 1967, while the Forrestal was preparing for her second airstrike of the day, a Zuni 5″ rocket was accidently fired from an F-4 Phantom parked on the port side  of the ship. The rocket zoomed across the flight deck, struck a hapless crewman, severed his arm, flew onward and struck John McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk light attack jet. The rocket ruptured the fuel tank of the Skyhawk and bits of propellant from the rocket ignited the fuel. 400 gallons of hot burning JP-5 jet fuel was suddenly ablaze and being fanned by the 27 knot wind across the deck. Almost instantly, Repair 8, the dedicated firefighting team on the flight deck, rushed into action. The fire on the flight deck was large and dangerous, but might have been quickly contained. Tragically, the 1000 pound bombs carried by the Skyhawks that day were old and not as resistant to heat as later weapons. Ninety-four seconds after the fire started, the first of nine 1000 pound bombs exploded. The damage was horrific. The explosion decimated Repair 8, leaving the flight deck with almost no trained personnel to fight the fire. The blast also shattered other aircraft, spreading even more burning jet fuel to feed the inferno. The blast punched a hole through the 1 3/4″ flight deck, allowing burning jet fuel to pour into the compartments below. Directly beneath the blast was a berthing compartment. Many crewmen were instantly killed by the first blast, before they even had a chance to rush to their battle stations.

On a ship on fire, there is really  no place to run to. Young men, many with no training in firefighting, rushed to replace their fallen comrades and battle the fire. Others worked to save the wounded, jettison bombs and other ordnance before it too exploded, or push damaged aircraft over the side before they were engulfed.

Many lives were lost through a lack of training, and the fire lasted longer than it should have because of poor firefighting techniques. There was no lack of courage, but skill was sorely in need. As a result of the fire, 134 sailors lost their lives and 161 were injured badly enough to require treatment, many of them suffering terrible burns.

In response to the tragedy and others like it, including the fires on the Oriskany in 1966 and the Enterprise in 1969, the Navy revamped the way it trained people on carriers.

Before, dedicated damage control teams were trained in firefighting. Now, anyone who serves on the flight deck of a carrier has to recieve at least rudimentary training on flight and hangar deck firefighting. And that’s where I come in.

When I was a wee lad, I was in Sea Scouts, a part of the Boy Scouts of America. One of my fellow Scouts was the son of the fire chief at the Navy base where I grew up.  His father secured three slots for us to attend the firefighting course. I was 15. On the appointed day, my friend Eric, another Scout named Karl, and I showed up in a classroom in a converted WWII barracks for an intense 2 day familiarization course on firefighting on a carrier flight deck. The first day was mostly classroom stuff, and the full version of the film above was central to the training. One of the (many) reasons I never considered joining the Navy was the recitation of the many and varied ways that you could wind up dead on a carrier. Walking  into a jet intake, being blown down the flight deck or overboard by a jet’s exhaust, walking into a prop, just walking off the edge of the carrier, being hit by an arresting wire, being run over by a plane or one of the flight deck tractors. That’s just a taste of the ways to wind up dead. Makes the infantry look safe.

Day two was when the fun started. Instead of the classroom, we got to experience the practical application side. The school had a “fire range” set up on base. It looked a lot like two Olympic sized swimming pools, only it was 6 inches deep. They would flood the pool with jet fuel, gas, diesel and whatever other flammable liquids they could find. And set it on fire. They would give it a minute or so to get going really well. Then we, the students would attack the fire.

Now, when you see firefighters, they have all the heavy fireproof clothing and masks and helmets and whatnot. We didn’t. We had on standard Navy dungaree uniforms, ball caps, heavy bunker coats ( as a modest nod toward our safety) and cotton gloves. And instead of fighting the fires with AFFF (aqueous film forming foam) we used plain old water. Generally, there were two teams, each with two hoses. One hose in each team would send a spray of fog over the entire team. This kept the heat away from our pink little bodies. The other hose was the attack hose, with a moderate jet of water sweeping back and forth to push back the burning jet fuel. Both hose teams had to work in conjunction to push the fire back and extinguish it. If the teams didn’t coordinate closely, a gap would open between them and the fuel between them would reignite in a flashback. And suddenly, we would find ourselves in the middle of a very big, very hot fire. It happened once or twice and it was unpleasant. That’s when the fog hose really came into play.

Of course, one of the things they pounded into our heads was “94 seconds”. That was all the time you could expect to have to get cooling water onto ordnance. Speed is life. After maybe a dozen forays into the flames, we became somewhat proficient. Not fully trained firefighters, no. But fire no longer held a terror that it might once have.

As an aside, when searching for graphics and video for this post, I see that a bunch of nutjobs are spreading a smear that John McCain was responsible for the fire. This is an utter lie, debunked so many times that it isn’t funny. But that won’t stop liars from lying. McCain’s actions that day weren’t particularly heroic, but they were in no way dishonorable either. His presence in the aircraft that was struck by the rocket is just one of those odd coincidences that make history so interesting.

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Ketsu-Go

As this 67th anniversary of the dropping of the first of only two atomic bombs ever used in combat is being remembered and, as is the case every year, an occasion for protest of both the weapons themselves and the United States and our decision to employ them, some oft-ignored perspective is in order.

The pending invasion of Japan, Operation DOWNFALL, was well along in the planning stages, with the first of these landings, on Kyushu (Operation OLYMPIC) scheduled for 1 November, 1945.  Shipping, troops, ammunition, landing craft, ammunition, fuel, trucks, tanks, howitzers, amtracs, every last item of modern war was being identified and gathered for what was sure to be a massive and bloody campaign that augured no end in sight.

The oft-repeated but strictly hindsight perspective that Japan was “near collapse” patently ignores the great common theme of the entire of the war in the Pacific.   The Japanese, as individuals, as small formations, major combat units, and indeed, as civilians, resisted fiercely well past the time when Western perspective and mindset would have dictated capitulation.  Time and again, “Jap must be finished” was so much wishful thinking, as the starving and desperate defenders made Americans pay for every inch of ground on every island on the path to Japan.

The casualty estimates for Operation OLYMPIC, the landing of two Army and one Marine Amphibious Corps on the Kanto Plain on the island of Kyushu, were grim by any standards.  Half a million US casualties were predicted, including more than 100,000 killed.  Sobering as they were, those estimates were predicated upon several calculations which proved, to both the horror and relief of the eventual occupation force, to be wildly optimistic.

First, Allied intelligence projections were that around 80,000 defenders were on Kyushu in April, which was projected to grow to around 400,000 by November.  In reality, more than 600,000 Japanese were to have awaited the invaders.  Joint estimates identified about 5,000 aircraft of all types available to the Japanese defenders.  The actual number of aircraft was more than twice that, nearly 11,000, most designated as “special attack” formations (Kamikaze).  In addition, Japan was prepared to employ several hundred midget submarines, more than a thousand human torpedoes and suicide boats, and nearly 900 rocket-powered suicide bombs which would be sent to destroy the ships and craft of the US invasion fleet.  Of the numbers of these last weapons, US intelligence knew almost nothing.

Second, the casualty ratio was based on the previous autumn’s combat operations on the island of Saipan, giving the name “Saipan Ratio” to the calculation that the killing of seven Japanese soldiers cost US forces 1.0 KIA and 1.7 WIA.   Recent combat on the island of Okinawa, despite the fact that the Japanese chose not to oppose the landings themselves, showed a figure almost twice the “Saipan Ratio”; the savage fighting for Iwo Jima produced US casualties at a rate of more than three times the planning figure.

Secretary of War Stimson commissioned the renowned scientist William B. Shockley to study the likely casualties from invading the Japanese Home Islands.   His conclusion is considered a major influence on President Truman to employ the Atomic Bombs on Japan:

 “If the study shows that the behavior of nations in all historical cases comparable to Japan’s has in fact been invariably consistent with the behavior of the troops in battle, then it means that the Japanese dead and ineffectives at the time of the defeat will exceed the corresponding number for the Germans. In other words, we shall probably have to kill at least 5 to 10 million Japanese. This might cost us between 1.7 and 4 million casualties including 400,000 to 800,000 killed…”

As we lose our World War II Veterans and their first-hand perspective on the terrible cost of the War in the Pacific, it is important to remember the context of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   The Shockley Report has been called a “gross exaggeration” and dismissed as being overly pessimistic.  However, one has but to apply an “Iwo Jima-Okinawa Ratio” to the actual numbers of Japanese defenders to see casualty estimates not radically different from Shockley’s.

Succeeding generations, able to debate the questions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki academically, often fail to understand what the invasion of Japan would have meant.  Kyushu and Honshu, and other landings would have replicated the horror of Tarawa’s Red Beach 2 and 3 on a massive scale.  A dozen more Suribachis, a hundred more Umurbrogols, thousands of Sugar Loafs, and Half Moons, and Amphitheaters.  The worst of urban combat, against an army and a population whose duty was glorious death for the Emperor while killing Americans.  The agony of the fleet off Okinawa, writ far larger and bloodier than the original experience.   And the utter and total destruction of Japan, as a nation and as a society.

After four years of bloody war which had been thrust upon us, Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a visiting of war upon the makers of war.  America in 1945 understood that sentiment at a visceral level, something we have never had to embrace.   Because of our great good fortune, we sometimes think ourselves more civilized than our parents and grandparents for our untested perspective.

To those who question the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I ask this question:

How do you explain to the mother, father, wife, son, of those who would have died on Kyushu or Honshu, that, in your calculation of relative worth, the lives of enemy civilians counted more than the life their loved one?

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“The World Will Hold Its Breath”

Those were Adolf Hitler’s words in December of 1940, as he revealed to his senior Wehrmacht Field Marshals and Generals his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

At a few minutes past 0300 on the morning of 22 June 1941, the rumble of 8,000 artillery pieces shook the western positions of the Red Army, all along the new borders of the Soviet Union.  Simultaneously, more than 3,300 aircraft roared overhead on their way to attack Soviet airfields, troop concentrations, command posts, and artillery positions.  The most fateful day of the Twentieth Century had begun.

In the west, the Wehrmacht of Hitler’s Third Reich consisted of 2.5 million men and more than 4,000 tanks comprising 180 divisions, organized into three massive Army Groups, which were poised to smash their ideological and political enemies, the Bolshevik dictatorship of Stalin’s Soviet Russia.

Opposing the German onslaught was more than 3 million soldiers of Stalin’s Red Army.  Numerically superior to its German opponent in men, aircraft (4,000), and tanks (more than 7,000), the armies on the Soviet western boundary were nonetheless abysmally led and poorly trained.  Still reeling from Stalin’s 1937-39 purges of most of its officer corps, and from the bloody humiliation of the disastrous “Winter War” with Finland in the winter of 1939-40, the Red Army was ill-prepared for war against a modern western foe.

The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, was a finely tuned weapon of mechanized warfare, having conquered Poland two years earlier, and overrun France in less than six weeks in 1940.  Superbly trained and equipped with modern armor and the most advanced combat aircraft, the three German Army Groups shattered the Soviet forces opposite them.  The Luftwaffe swept the Red Air Force, the VVS, from the skies and smashed it on the ground.  By the end of the second day, more than 2,300 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed.    The Red Army was already being shattered and destroyed piecemeal, in what would be the “great battles of encirclement” of that summer and autumn of 1941, from which few escaped death or captivity.  The eradication of the VVS was nearly complete.  Nearly.  The Red Army almost bled to death.  Almost.   Yet, somehow, they held on.

Operation BARBAROSSA, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, more than any other, was Hitler’s war.  It was the war of Mein Kampf, the war for Lebensraum in the East, whose purpose was to open the great steppes for colonization by the Aryan race.  It was a war not just of conquest but of subjugation and annihilation, fought with a brutality that had not been seen in Europe since the Tatar conquests of seven centuries before.   It was a war of unspeakable horror and unimaginable suffering, by soldier and civilian alike.  Prisoners on both sides died by the millions, worked to death as slave labor, starved, or simply shot or hanged out of hand.  But it was also a war of grim and fatalistic heroism on both sides.   The German-Soviet conflict, when it ended in the rubble of Berlin nearly four years later, would take the lives of almost twenty-three million souls.

Some of the most enduring images of the Eastern Front, and for the Soviets the Great Patriotic War, are of columns of Russian and German prisoners forlornly marching to their fates (the Russians seemingly always in the dust of the summer, the Germans in the bitter cold of winter).  And of grainy images of executions and hangings by the German SS Einsatzgruppen, and far less publicized, of the execution of suspected Russian collaborators by field units of the NKVD, the terror apparatus of Stalin’s brutal regime.

There are lessons and cautions abundant in examining this titanic struggle.  Cautions about underestimating one’s enemy, his will to fight for family and homeland.  The Russian soldier, deemed racially inferior and incapable of waging modern war, proved individually tough, able to endure hardship and privation in startling measure.  He was also fanatical in the defense, fierce in the attack, and bore a hatred of the “blue-eyed oaf” that would be carried across the borders of Prussia with terrible effect.

The Russian was also capable of producing simple but highly effective weaponry, and of mastering its employment.   The T-34 and KV-1 tanks that began to appear in the autumn of 1941 were superior to any German design.  Soviet aircraft began to close the technology gap with the Luftwaffe far faster than anticipated.   Soviet artillery, superior to the Germans even in June of 1941, would dominate the battlefield as the Red Army’s “God of War”.   All these would surprise and confound the German commanders who were told to expect an enemy of limited intellect and poor character.

There are also many myths and misconceptions surrounding the struggle between these oppressive dictatorships.    Here are two:

  1.  The Wehrmacht was not capable of winning a short (ten-week) war against the Soviet Union.

Because the Germans did not win does not mean they were not capable of winning, or the Soviets capable of losing.  Had the Ostheer kept its focus on Moscow as the main objective (the plan was to surround, not enter the city), and had Hoth’s Panzers been unleashed in the first week of August, rather than frittered away in other operations until October, the capture of the European capital of the Soviet Union was within its capabilities.  Perhaps even more important than the purely political prize was the massive Soviet war industry that occupied the so-called “Moscow-Gorky Space”.   Siberian forces did not begin to arrive to defend the city and its immediate area in significant numbers until late September, 1941.  The capture of the Soviet war industry, which included the massive tank works at Gorky itself, and the aircraft engine factory at Kuibyshev, would have deprived the Soviet Union of its most valuable asset, the ability to replace the massive combat losses with more modern and capable equipment.  Had those factories been destroyed or fallen into German hands, there would have been no MiG or Yak fighters, no Il-2 Sturmoviks, no PE-2s, or any of the other increasingly modern aircraft that would eventually sweep the Luftwaffe from the sky.  There would have been no replacement divisions of T-34/76 and /85 tanks, no self-propelled guns, no artillery pieces to replace those lost in the massive battles or worn out in extensive combat.  Without those factories and the hardware they produced, there would have been no rehabilitation of the VVS or of the Red Army into the juggernaut that crushed Army Group Vistula into bits and eventually subsume eastern Germany.

  1. The Soviet Union was capable of defeating Nazi Germany without Allied assistance.

While it is true that the Soviet Union bore the unquestioned preponderance of the weight of German arms (at various times, 80% of German combat power was employed in the East, and nearly 80% of all German losses were inflicted by the Soviets), and the suffering and casualties of the Soviet military and civilian population exceeded the rest of the Allies combined by a wide margin, Stalin’s Russia could not have won the war without Allied, and particularly American, assistance.   While many are familiar with pictures of some of the 9,000 US and British tanks shipped to the Soviets under Lend-Lease, these represented only about 20% of Soviet tank production during the war.  There is little question upon any examination, however, that there were two absolutely critical areas of direct assistance were the linchpins of the survival of the Soviet Union in the dark days of 1941-43, and their drive to ultimate victory in 1944-45.  The first of these areas was in food production.  The United States shipped more than seventeen MILLION tons of food, wheat and canned goods, to the Soviet Union whose agricultural bread basket was under German occupation.  That food sustained the Red Army and Russian war industry workers when none other was available.  Without it, the prospects for Soviet victory would have been slim indeed.  The second item so critical to the Soviet war effort was the supply of more than half a million American trucks.  Tough, six-wheel drive vehicles which carried logistical supplies from the rear areas to the front, and which mounted the famous 122mm Katyusha rocket launchers by the tens of thousands, allowed the Red Army to supply itself on the battlefield in the defensive struggles of 1942 and carried that Army to the great offensive drives that eventually smashed the German Ostheer.  Those trucks represent more than 70% of total Soviet vehicle production, freeing their industries to produce the war weapons, tanks, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles that equipped the Red Army.

The final victory of the Soviet Union is, however, a testament to the tough, fierce, and brave Russian soldier.  His image, the hardened veteran soldier sitting atop a T-34 with PPSh in hand, scanning for a glimpse of the hated enemy, his mustard-colored quilt uniform covered with dust and snow, will endure for centuries in the collective consciousness of the Russian people.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union has never been comprehensively treated.  The subject is far too large.  It is too complex and incapable of being understood, except gradually, within the context of its salient events, and those of the rest of the world during and since.  A thousand volume work on the subject would still require an explanation and a qualification that such a work was by no means all-inclusive.  Yet, it remains one of the most compelling subjects for historians, social and military, because of the world-altering impact of the events themselves and their decades-long aftermath.   The magnitude of the struggle defies modern understanding.   As does the agony of the armies and the peoples locked in the grips of that mortal struggle.

And so it is likely to remain.  And it began with the flash of cannon and the roar of engines, in the morning darkness, seventy-one years ago today.

PS:  I am humbled and grateful to xbradtc for allowing me the intellectual pleasure of writing on this blog.  And for his unwavering faith that a Marine actually knew how to write, and that I wouldn’t eat the crayons.

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Wolfhound Warrior

A repost from the past. Roamy alerted me that today is the 61st anniversary of the battle that earned COL Millett the Medal of Honor. Just one of several Wolfhounds over the years have earned.

 

I just found out a bit of sad news (from Neptunus Lex of all places).

COL (USA, Ret) Lewis L. Millet, Medal of Honor, passed on November 14th, 2009.  COL Millet, as a Captain, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on February 7, 1951 in Korea:

Capt. Millett, Company E, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. While personally leading his company in an attack against a strongly held position he noted that the 1st Platoon was pinned down by small-arms, automatic, and antitank fire. Capt. Millett ordered the 3d Platoon forward, placed himself at the head of the 2 platoons, and, with fixed bayonet, led the assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge Capt. Millett bayoneted 2 enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder. During this fierce onslaught Capt. Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was taken and firmly secured. The superb leadership, conspicuous courage, and consummate devotion to duty demonstrated by Capt. Millett were directly responsible for the successful accomplishment of a hazardous mission and reflect the highest credit on himself and the heroic traditions of the military service.

While I was stationed in Hawaii, I was privileged to be assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th US Infantry, The Wolfhounds.  The Wolfhounds are a very proud unit, considering they have a relatively short history. The regiment was only formed in 1902, but quickly acquired a reputation as a “can-do” unit. In addition to service in Siberia immediately after the Russian Revolution, the Wolfhounds, as part of the 25th Division, served with great distinction during WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and now in Iraq.

Many units in the Army pay lip service to their heritage. The Wolfhounds live it. One program we had was making sure there was a real connection from the past to the present. Several times while I was in Hawaii, we hosted COL Millet to unit functions.  There were some semi-formal events, dinners and such. But the real benefit was having “Lew” come out and just spend time with us as we went about our training. We tend to elevate our heroes up onto a pedestal. But by meeting and talking with Lew Millet, many young troops had chance to meet a real hero, and see that he was human. Each of us could, if not guarantee that we would perform to his level of valor and gallantry, at least aspire to it.

Rest in peace, COL Millet.

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Go Wolfhounds!

Ok, just to be clear, this is Roamy. I was reading Facebook entries and thought XBradTC had put up this one, only to realize that it was the same avatar, but it was LTC Dan Wilson, Commander of Task Force No Fear, of the 27th Infantry Regiment Wolfhounds.

Dear Wolfhounds and Wolfhound Families,

Today, February 1st, marks the official 111th anniversary of the activation of the 27th Infantry Regiment. In all those years, the Wolfhounds have earned a reputation for unparalleled excellence in everything we do, balancing utter ferocity for our enemies with compassion for those less fortunate. This year has been no different, and in honor of this day I thought it appropriate to share with you what your Wolfhounds have been up to. Below are some highlights:

-We have fundamentally changed the environment in northern Kunar province. In what was arguably the most complex and kinetic area of operations in Afghanistan, your Wolfhounds have brought hope to this area for the first time in over 30 years by combining our strength as Soldiers with respect for the Afghan people. The Afghans tell us they have never seen an American unit like the Wolfhounds, and they simply do not want us to leave. There is genuine affection and friendship where before there was only mistrust and hatred. We have fought when necessary, but more importantly we have built bridges of peace between cultures, which is something that will last much longer than any tactical victory.

-We have continued the tradition, began by Wolfhounds in Korea sixty years ago, of passing helmets around foxholes (in some cases while under fire) to raise money for the children of the Holy Family Home. Despite not having ready access to cash or cash machines, we have raised over $3,000 for our Orphan Legacy Fund, and we will pass the helmets around again tonight as part of our birthday celebration to add to that sum. Additionally, we aggressively publicized the Combined Federal Campaign number for Peace Bridge during the CFC campaign last summer, and we hope that will raise another significant amount of money to be used for our kids in Osaka.

-Wolfhounds and Wolfhound Families…raised over $7,000 for the Holy Family Home by manning a donation booth out in front of the Schofield Barracks Post Exchange on just about every weekend in November and December. Despite having more than 90% of the battalion deployed, our intrepid volunteers not only did well, they broke the record from last year!

-C Company, working with a charity called Waves 4 Water, has begun a program to bring clean drinking water to the people of Afghanistan. Their first delivery of 100 filters was an overwhelming success, drew national attention in the press, and led to a donation of $25,000 from the CEO of HBO, which will be used to expand the program and purchase another 500 filters. We estimate that will provide clean water to more than 75,000 people for several years, and go a long way in eliminating deadly waterborne illnesses that wreak havoc with children and the elderly here every year.

As you can see, your Wolfhounds continue to live up to what I call the Wolfhound Standard. It has been tough deployment, with tragic losses and many wounded in action, but the amazing men and women of this task force have never wavered in their devotion to the mission at hand, and that unique Wolfhound spirit has never faltered. I am simply humbled to stand in the ranks of these heroic Americans, who represent everything that is good and decent in this world. We will start preparing for redeployment soon, and we look forward to being back home soon with our Wolfhound family in Hawaii.

No Fear On Earth!

LTC Dan Wilson
No Fear 6
Commander, Task Force No Fear
2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment (The Wolfhounds)

God bless you and keep you safe.

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Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment

I’m not your typical royal watcher, but I did read with interest that the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton will soon be named honorary colonel of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. Very appropriate, given that she is the future Princess of Wales.

The PWRR Tigers are part of the Queen’s division and, including its earlier forms (Queen’s Royal Regiment, Royal Hampshire Regiment, Queen’s Own Buffs, and others), have fought in nearly every war since the Battle of Tangier in 1662. At the time of publishing this, they were the most decorated British Infantry Battalion for Iraq. Their recent awards include one Victoria Cross, 3 Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, 2 Distinguished Service Order, 16 Military Cross, one George Medal, one Member of the British Empire, and a couple of American awards (Legion of Merit and Meritorious Service Medal).

What really surprised me in researching this is that the current honorary colonel of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment is Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. Princess Diana shared the honor with Queen Margrethe but stepped down after her divorce from Prince Charles. This symbol of of the alliance between the United Kingdom and Denmark goes back to 1906, when Danish King Frederick VIII was named Colonel-in-Chief of The Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment. As with most European royalty, there were family ties – King Frederick’s sister Alexandra was married to the British King Edward VII.

Also announced was the royals’ involvement in the Forces in Mind Trust, a charity for soldiers returning home and readjusting to civilian life. Prince William is honorary colonel of the Irish Guards, seen here with the Duchess.

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Battlespace

We’re still working our way (oh so slowly) through the Greenbooks. We’re currently about halfway through the history of the Army campaign at Okinawa (we’re NOT reading them in order).

One of the things that is most striking is just how little frontage there was for such huge numbers of troops involved. At the Shuri line defenses, the island is only about 5 miles wide, and yet three entire infantry divisions were line abreast. The divisions (and in turn each of their subordinate formations) tended to follow the “two up, one back” rule of thumb. That is, each division would have two regiments abreast, with one in reserve to exploit any successes, or refitting and receiving replacements. Likewise, the regiments, battalions, and companies would have two units forward, with one in reserve. Still, that’s a very narrow frontage for an entire army corps.

The Shuri line of defenses were so formidable, however, that the entire corps advance was dependent on platoon and company attacks on strongpoints on the line. If one strongpoint couldn’t be reduced, the units attempting to bypass it would be pinned by automatic weapons, mortars and artillery the Japanese had positioned on the reverse slopes. Time and again, US troops would pay a horrific price to seize the front slope of a ridge, only to be too depleted to advance upon the rear slope. For that matter, the reverse slope defenses of the Japanese were masterpieces of the military art. They would contest control of the crest of a ridge, showering mortars and grenades on US troops clinging to the front slope. They had caves, bunkers, pillboxes and spiderholes, all linked by extensive tunnels, that made attacking downhill on the reverse slope every bit as hazardous as seizing the front slope.  Their positions were virtually impervious to mortar, artillery, and even 16” naval gunfire.  To make matters worse, when US forces managed to get enough troops and firepower onto a ridge to contest the reverse slope, enemy position on the frontal slope of the next ridge would fire upon them.

Image_331

NISHIBARU ESCARPMENT AREA, which the  96th Division took.  On 21 April  the 3d Battalion, 382d attacked  eastern  end  of  escarpment  by moving through  the 381st’s zone to the ridge, then turning east. (Original caption from The US Army in World War II)

That’s an entire division’s objective. And it would take over a week to capture.

 

The interlocking nature of the Japanese positions was such that the preferred tactic of flanking attacks was impossible. Any move to the flank of one position was just a move to the front of another. Consequently, US forces had to time and again make costly frontal attacks on the most carefully constructed infantry defensive positions seen in the entire war.  Time and again, platoons would attack to destroy a single strongpoint. Units that would normally have a strength of almost 50 men would finish the morning with a bare handful of effectives. But what option was there? A platoon’s objective for the day might be a single enemy position only 20 meters across, and only 50 meters away. Entire regiments would be gutted of infantry strength in just a few days of attack.

The Japanese knew they had no chance of defeating the US on the island. But then, that wasn’t their mission. Their role was to buy time, to bleed the US as much as possible and give the forces in the Home Islands more time to prepare for the inevitable invasion.  And not only were the Army forces (and Marines) ashore being whittled down. The Navy, tied to Okinawa waters to support the men ashore, was being bled white by the Kamikaze attacks day and night. Those losses meant the 10th Army ashore had to keep attacking, to wrap up the campaign as quickly as possible.

Fast forward 40 years, and my experiences as a light infantryman. I was used to light infantry operating over vastly larger frontages. A rifle company on a seek and destroy mission might cover a zone a mile wide and three miles deep over a 24 hour mission. And as a mechanized soldier, the space a single company might be expected to operate over was vastly increased.

But could today’s forces do any better against a defense such as 10th Army faced in Okinawa? I doubt it. In fact, in some ways, we’d be worse off. While we have more automatic weapons at the platoon level, the organic firepower of a platoon isn’t much more than it was then. And supporting arms aren’t that much greater up to the battalion level. And weapons that were key to destroying the Japanese then are nowhere to be found today. One of the most useful weapons was the flame-throwing tank. Modified M4 Shermans replaced the 75mm gun tube with a flamethrower with a range of roughly 150 yards.  Today, flame weapons are almost unheard of on the battlefield.

The Army would desperately like to avoid the awful “hugger-mugger” type fight that exemplified the Okinawa battlefield. But sometimes, that’s not always an option. Operations in Fallujah showed that the enemy gets his vote on where the battle will take place. And fighting in cities takes an enormous commitment in manpower.  A single small building takes at least one squad, and often an entire platoon to secure.  Our advantages in weapons and technology are nullified. Only our advantage in training remains. But training will only go so far. Two men in a room, one with an M16, one with an AK- that’s far to close to a fair fight for my tastes. And yet, the Army will have to face this situation again on battlefields of the future. Sometimes, it just comes down to guts.

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