Tag Archives: army

The First Troop of the Philadelphia City Cavalry

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on what is probably the most unique unit in the entire Army.

Formed even before the beginning of the American Revolution, FTPCC has been at the service of our nation ever since.

First Troop members ride in a George Washington memorial event in Philadelphia in 2006.

Gregg Connell ’s enlistment into his National Guard cavalry unit went like this:

Already well-lubricated at the armory bar, members of the troop passed around a wooden box. Those who wanted to accept Spc. Connell dropped in white marbles. Those opposed, black marbles.

White marbles outnumbering black, Spc. Connell was summoned into the armory’s mess hall, where, beneath oil paintings of bewhiskered men in silver-buttoned tunics and helmets topped with bearskin crests, the captain pinned a fabric rosette to his blue blazer. Spc. Connell saluted and signed a muster roll with names dating back to 1774.

Then he stood on a chair and sang a selection from the troop’s big book of bawdy songs: “Take It Out at the Ballgame.”

So it was that the 24-year-old aspiring architect joined what is probably the most idiosyncratic unit in the U.S. military: First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry.

Hopefully the rest of the article isn’t behind the paywall for you. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s the thing, because the unit existed before the Militia Act of 1792, and subsequent revisions, it has been permitted, by law, to continue its traditions, such as election of officers.

Now, every member has to enlist in the Pennsylvania National Guard before standing for membership in FTPCC. There’s no guarantee they’ll get into the troop.

And while the troop seems to focus mostly on social events, understand, that is in addition to performing their actual Guard duties. That means a weekend of honest to goodness Army type drill each month, and then the troop specific stuff on a separate occasion. And troopers are expected to donate their drill pay to the troop for maintenance of troop specific property, such as the tack gear for their horses. The taxpayer isn’t funding the historical aspects nor the social aspects.

The troop or members of the troop have been activated and served in or during almost every war in our nation’s history.

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90mm AA Battery in Action

A nice little film of an early 90mm AA battery at practice.  It gives a nice explanation of the director and rangefinder, and how that automatically controls the elevation and traverse of the guns.

Later, the optical rangefinder would be replaced by a radar rangefinder, usually an SCR-584.

Also, this was made before the proximity (or VT) fuze was in use. The time delay setting for each fuze was electrically sent from the director to each gun. On each mount, just to the left of the breech, there was a fuzesetter. Looking much like a cupholder, the ammo man would put the nose of each shell in the fuze setter, which would mechanically turn the fuze of the shell to the proper setting. The ammo man would hold the shell in until the casing of the previous round was ejected, and then pass the shell to the loader.

Obviously, once the VT fuze came into use, the fuze setter no longer had to be used.

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CVCU

Esli has a set or two. I used to have a couple. They’re popular with tankers, but only rarely have I seen mech infantry crews wearing them.

Armored vehicles are playgrounds for fire. The armor itself doesn’t burn, but just about everything else inside a track loves to burn. Fuel, ammo, furnishings, cables, rubber seals, grease, hydraulic fluid,  people….

And burns are one of the major causes of injuries and wounds for armored crewmen. And because armor vehicles are often quite messy to work on and around, the traditional uniform for tankers was a set of coveralls.  But cotton coveralls, especially with petroleum products smeared on them, gave little protection against fire.

And so, the Army, in its wisdom, developed the Combat Vehicle Crewman’s Uniform, or CVCU.

The basis of the design was the traditional CWU-27P flight suit. Like the flight suit, it is made of fire resistant Nomex fabric.  But there are quite a few differences.

First, it is substantially thicker than the thin flight suit. That helps minimized tearing.

Second, while a pilot might only wear his flight suit for a few hours, vehicle crews can expect to spend days wearing their suit. For that reason, there’s a flap at the seat of the CVCU to make defecating easier. Not dignified, by any stretch, but easier.

Third, armored vehicles don’t have ejection seats. If a wounded crewman has to be pulled from a vehicle, it’s quite difficult. To make it just a little easier, there’s a velcro flap across the back. Opening the flap reveals a nylon tape that forms a harness under the wearer’s shoulders. The tape makes lifting or dragging the wounded much easier.

cvcu

In my day, the CVCU was issued in a olive drab color known as OG106.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4140/4997099704_95bbf642e7_z.jpg

Today it is issued in the very unattractive UCP pattern.

In addition to the coverall, the CVCU came with some accoutrements such as leather and Nomex gloves, a Nomex cold weather balaclava, and, in the past, a lightweight flexible body armor vest similar to what police wear.

Outside of actual live fire gunnery, CVCUs were unpopular with most of the mech infantry I knew. But personally, I loved them. As a crewmember, anytime we went to the field, I wore them.

You see, CVCU were organizational clothing, issued to the soldier when he was assigned to a crew, and turned back in when he was transferred to another post.

And since they were OCIE, if they were damaged or worn out, or otherwise unserviceable, they could be exchanged at no cost for a new set.

BDUs, on the other hand, had to be replaced at the expense of the soldier.

Now, why would I wear out a perfectly nice $60 set of BDUs in the field, when I could risk $0 by wearing the CVCU?

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Albert Wedemeyer and the Victory Plan

The 1941 Victory Plan came up in the comments about the mobilization of divisions for World War II.  It’s a topic that’s little known outside historical circles, but one worth serious scholarly study. Unfortantely, I’m pressed for time, so you only get the briefest gloss on the subject.

The US Army had for some time anticipated that it might be drawn into the war in Europe. And it had sown the seeds of a massive mobilization of the Army. In 1940, for the first time, the Congress enacted a peacetime draft, greatly swelling the ranks of the Army. But at that time, while the Army might anticipate being drawn into war with Germany, the nation was still at peace, and there was still a very strong isolationist sentiment in the country. The first role of the swelling Army authorized in 1940 was to train an Army for the defense of our own coasts, and then to provide task forces for the defense of the Western Hemisphere, particularly in areas such as the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.

With the increased cooperation with Britain in 1941, however, it came to be understood that if the US did in fact find itself at war with Germany, it would have to come to grips with the German army and destroy it. That meant deploying across the Atlantic.

That summer, GEN George C. Marshall tasked an obscure Major, Albert C. Wedemeyer to come up with a plan, outlining what the national objectives were (based on political guidance and the assumption that we would in fact join with Britain to fight Germany), what would be needed to defeat Germany in terms of forces, and the production and manpower required to fulfill that need.

With all the officers senior to Wedemeyer, even in the Pentagon, Marshall’s choice seems a touch odd. But Wedemeyer was hardly your run of the mill Major. He had a few things going for him. First, the wave of promotions the Regular Army was about to undergo hadn’t quite caught up to him yet. But like virtually all Regulars, he would have seen some level of promotion soon in the expanding Army. Second, he had spent the 20s and 30s largely in schools, schools that had made him almost uniquely qualified to undertake this task.

Wedemeyer knew the Germans better than almost any other officer in the War Plans Division. He’d actually attended their Kriegsakademie, the German Army Staff School.

Second, Wedemeyer had access to the Army Industrial College. Stung by the poor showing of American industry in the mobilization of World War I, the Army in 1924 set up a think tank to analyze the industrial capacity of the country, and determine which industries could be converted to militarily useful wartime production. The college had an encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every industry, virtually every set of machine tools in the entire nation. If you wanted to know where the Army could buy 8 million entrenching tools, the AIC had a master document that could show which companies could best convert to making them.

Most importantly, Marshall knew and trusted him. Marshall had a short list of officers he knew, or knew of, whose past performance had impressed him sufficiently that he would task them with seemingly impossible planning missions. Having assigned a task, Marshall would then leave the officer to work with little interference. If that officer measured up and produced, he would almost certainly be rewarded with promotion, and command. If the officer failed, he would be banished to less critical roles.

Wedemeyer understood that a modern industrial nation could realistically only put about 10% of its population in uniform. His estimates of manpower in total, and roughly how they would be equipped, and the industrial might required to do that, were incredibly prescient. His estimate that, accounting for the Navy and the Marines, that the Army would put about 8 million men in uniform spot on.

Where he erred badly, as noted in the comments of the previous post, was the estimate of the total number of divisions the Army could field. The rough number he estimated was 215 divisions. As it turned out, the Army would only activate 91 divisions. There were a couple reasons for this. Again, as noted in the comments, the support troops required were far in excess of original estimates. That includes both the institutional side of the Army dedicated to training troops, as well as the logisticians required to keep the Army in the field. Further, the numbers of non-divisional troops raised were far in excess of his estimates. For instance, the Army raised dozens of tank destroyer battalions during the war, none of which Wedemeyer anticipated in the Victory Plan. Similarly, he had not anticipated the large numbers of independent tank battalions, nor the large numbers of field artillery battalions outside of Division Artillery. In the event, the habitual attachment of a TD battalion and an independent tank battalion to almost every division in Western Europe resulted in a de facto level of armor in an infantry division that was utterly absent in Wehrmacht infantry divisions.

Wedemeyer did see that the relatively small triangular division would have to be heavy on firepower, with generous numbers of automatic weapons, mortars, field guns, anti-tank guns, and artillery. Further, it was incredibly mobile. US infantry divisions both had huge numbers of trucks assigned (compared to the German army) both as prime movers, and as lift for logistics and troop transport. And there were also huge numbers of non-divisional truck companies to support the logistics of the Army in the field.

Wedemeyer got far more right than he got wrong. Most importantly, with a fairly rational starting point, the Army could do just that- get started.

Marshall eventually rewarded Wedemeyer with stars, and duty in the Far East. Not as visible or as important as other theaters, Wedemeyer’s name is almost unknown outside military history circles. But that doesn’t diminish the incredible accomplishment of his Victory Plan.

For further reading, this is a good place to start.

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H. R. McMaster in the news

Go hit CDR Salamander this morning.

LTG H. R. McMaster, arguably the best strategic mind in the Army right now, spoke recently  to the AUSA on the future of warfare.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2014) — Americans and their leaders all too often wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to assessing future warfare, said the deputy commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for Futures and director, Army Capabilities Center.
Too often, people think battles can be won through engineering and technological advances: cyber, advanced weapons systems, robotics and so on, said Lt. Gen. Herbert R. McMaster Jr.
Big defense firms sell big-ticket systems that are supposed to win wars, he said. The firms use subtle and not-so-subtle advertising that you need this system for the sake of your children and grandchildren and if you don’t purchase it, “you’re heartless.” Congress usually obliges…

…Although the Army has dominated the battlefield technologically in the recent past, that’s no guarantee against an increasingly agile, adaptive foe. The enemy is becoming more adept at eluding firepower through dispersion into civilian areas, disrupting communications and adopting new technologies, he explained. And, non-state actors like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are already fielding capabilities once the sole domain of states.
The “zero dark-thirty” myth is another, he said. This idea uses systems theory to explain warfare as a series of linked nodes. The idea is to selectively take out nodes that are critical to the enemy’s network.
In systems theory, the U.S. would simply conduct air strikes or a special operations raid of limited duration to disrupt the network, he said. The systems theory goes back to the Spanish-American War in 1898, when sea power was supposed to win the war, but it took boots on the ground, he said.

As CDR Sal alludes, sometimes the medium IS the message. This wasn’t an OpEd piece in a military journal or a newspaper. This was on the army.mil domain. That makes it, if not official policy, then official enough.

There’s a lively discussion in the comments at Sal’s, which has a greater depth and grasp of history than any coming from the White House about our operations against ISIS.

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Breakfast, Russian Style

I found this link over at the ONT.

A typical Russian Army breakfast in garrison.

That’s breakfast. Here you can see what looks like oats and a sausage. The small white drink is “milk” and the small spread is “butter”. The glass on the left is a glass of tea. The thing on the right is two slices of Russian bread.  

Follow the link to see other meals. Overall, it doesn’t look too bad. But by way of comparison, here’s a fairly typical garrison breakfast in the US Army.

http://kpbs.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/news/tease/2013/01/15/Breakfast.jpg

I kinda prefer ours, but I’ll admit, the Russian meals looked better than I expected.

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Counterbattery!

We’re used to seeing clips and stories of artillery pummeling enemy fortifications or troops. Goodness knows we’ve shown more than a few ourselves.

But one of the major roles of artillery is attacking an enemy’s artillery. This counter artillery role is known as counterbattery (even when engaging formations larger than a battery).

In the days of the American Civil War, counterbattery was directed visually. But in the era of breechloaded guns with smokeless powder and explosive shells firing from over the horizon, locating enemy batteries was infinitely more difficult.

Forward observers could spot some mortar and light artillery batteries. And there were acoustical detection devices. In fact, from about 1916 well into the 1950s, sound location, or MASINT (Measure And Signature INTelligence)  was the primary means of locating enemy firing batteries. By measuring the difference in the Time of Arrival (TOA) of a gun blast along a baseline of sensors, the enemy location could be triangulated. Similarly, lines of bearing from multiple points could point to an enemy battery. Calculating the firing point could take as little as three minutes.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of World War II, the US Army was just staring to explore the possibilities of using radar to control anti-aircraft fire. The first Army radars operated with frequencies in the meter range. That was relatively adequate for long range search, but for precise control of gunfire, it was rather disappointing. When the British shared the discovery of the cavity magnetron, the US was able to very quickly develop centimetric wavelength radars. One in particular, the SCR-584, was extremely effective. Not only was it very precise, it was quite versatile as well. It could act as a search radar out to respectable ranges, as much as 35 miles. Incredibly, given the infancy of radar development, it was capable of automatically tracking targets within about 18 miles.

The SCR-584 was so fundamentally sound, during the development of the M1 90mm Anti-Aircraft gun it was intended to work with, the radar was used to confirm the ballistic profiles of the shells fired from the gun. Ballistic tables were normally devised by computers- that is, hundreds of women with slide rules- mathematically. By confirming the calculations with empirical observation provided by the SCR-584, the complete tables were validated more quickly than normally possible. That is, the 584 was precise enough to track a 90mm shell in flight. By measuring the range and angle from the mount to the shell over a handful of times during the flight of the shell, the ballistic parabola could be derived.

It didn’t take long for some bright operators to realized that if you could determine the ballistics of an outgoing shell, you could also determine the ballistics of an incoming shell. And with a map and a little math, you could plot the parabola back to its point of origin, that is, the enemy firing battery.

Having discovered that radars could be used to track artillery fire, it wasn’t long before the service sought out a radar optimized for the mission. Nor was the US Army the only force to develop a dedicated counterbattery radar. Today, almost every army has at least some counterbattery radar capability.

For the past 30 years or so, the US Army and Marines have fielded the TPQ-36 and TPQ-37 Firefinder radars in the Target Acquisition Batteries of their artillery units. Recently, the Army has also fielded the TPQ-46 Lighweight Counter Mortar Radar. While the Q-46 does calculate the firing point of enemy radars, it’s primarily used to warn troops of incoming mortar and rocket fire. It can also cue the Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar (C-RAM) system to intercept mortar rounds.

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