Tag Archives: history

A Camera Lost for 70 Years Gives a Glimpse Into the Battle of the Bulge.

Cameras are ubiquitous today.  We’ve all grown somewhat accustomed to seeing combat footage from Iraq and Afghanistan, often taken by the soldiers themselves. 70 years ago, that wasn’t quite the case. There were some cameras, but not many, and film was hard to come by.

U.S. Navy Captain Mark Anderson and his historian friend Jean Muller were out with metal detectors, scavenging around Luxembourg, where the most heated firefights of The Battle of the Bulge took place.

While traveling through the hilly forest that once served as a brutal battleground, the pair came across an empty foxhole, and inside of that foxhole they found the personal possessions of an American soldier, left untouched for almost three-quarters of a century.

Among those possessions was a camera with a partially-exposed roll of film still inside.

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle in the history of the US Army, and much of it was fought with an intensity that would rival any other. The Army would suffer 19,000 Killed in Action, over 47,000 wounded, and 23,000 captured or missing. One soldier, first listed as Missing in Action, was later listed as Killed in Action when his remains were recovered.

And it was Louis J. Archambeau’s camera that CAPT Anderson found.


The handful of images may be in poor condition, but they clearly show the discomfort and tension of that awful battlefield.

H/T to Jennifer Holik for sharing this on facebook.

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Filed under army, history

Flight- The Romance of Naval Aviation

Spill kinda stole my thunder last night, posting the youtube of flight ops aboard the Ranger. I’d planned to put that up this morning.

So instead, I have to steal from SteelJawScribe this vid.


Lots of great NavAir from the 60s, complete with uber-cheesy soundtrack. Grab a cuppa coffee.


Filed under navy

VOA At Sea

A few years ago, Craig wrote about the Air Force’s Commando Solo mission using EC-121s and later EC-130Es to broadcast television and radio programs as an ongoing PSYOPS program in various conflict theaters.

Similarly, during the Cold War, the United States used Voice of America to broadcast news and entertainment to people behind the Iron Curtain to counter Soviet propaganda. Most of the transmissions were along the Iron Curtain itself, but as this Stars and Stripes article shows, parts of the southern rim of the Soviet empire were best reached by a shipborne transmitter in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Coast Guard cutter Courier arrived at the island of Rhodes in Greece in 1952 and stayed until 1964, setting a record for longest deployment overseas. Under an initiative code-named Operation Vagabond, the ship served as a floating and mobile radio relay station, using its powerful transmitter to broadcast Voice of America programs into parts of the Soviet Union, communist bloc countries and the Middle East.


First, it’s interesting that the ship was a Coast Guard vessel. Certainly, a Coast Guard vessel would be seen as less provocative than a naval vessel. I’m just surprised it wasn’t a civilian manned ship of the Military Sealift Command.

For 12 years, USCGC Courier shared America’s vision of hope to the peoples trapped in the Communist beast’s belly.

Well done, Coasties.

H/T: This Ain’t Hell.


Filed under history

“…and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in…

The above excerpt from a statement by Colin Powell, then Secretary of State.

And it is true. The American Battlefield Monuments Commission was established in 1923.

Recognizing the need for a federal agency to be responsible for honoring American armed forces where they have served, and for controlling the construction of military monuments and markers on foreign soil by others, Congress enacted legislation in 1923 establishing ABMC.

In performing its functions, ABMC administers, operates and maintains on foreign soil 25 permanent American burial grounds, and 26 separate memorials, monuments and markers, including three memorials in the United States. Presently there are 124,908 American war dead interred in these cemeteries, of which 30,922 are from World War I, 93,236 are from World War II and 750 are from the Mexican War. Additionally, 6,237 American veterans and others are interred at the Mexico City National Cemetery and the Corozal American Cemetery in Panama. Commemorated individually by name on stone tablets are 94,135 American servicemen and women who were missing in action, or lost or buried at sea in their regions during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The best known cemetery is almost certainly The Normandy American Cemetery, seen by millions in the opening and  closing scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

A view of Normandy American Cemetery from the memorial area.

It is one of 25 overseas burial grounds maintained by the ABMC. There are in addition 26 permanent memorials overseas under the aegis of ABMC. One such memorial is at Cabanatuan, Philippines.

Inscription on the Cabanatuan American Memorial reads: "Site of Japanese Prisoner of War Camp 1942 to 1945. This memorial honors the American servicemen and the civilians who died here..."

I find it interesting that so many families chose to have their loved one rest eternally on the soil of a nation they fought to free. For many, it seems fitting and right. But there are no cemeteries in Korea, nor Vietnam. No Americans will rest eternally in the sands of Iraq, or in the valleys of Afghanistan. I don’t know what to think of that.


Filed under history

Why can’t we build a new airplane?

Spill and I were mulling it over the other day, talking about the CH-53K and the F/A-18E/F, versus the MV-22 and the F-35. 

Today, virtually all successful aviation acquisition programs are evolutions of existing aircraft, while every new airframe is a developmental hell.

Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any successful, well managed new airframes (that is, started on a fresh sheet of paper) since the Teen Series fighters, and the H-60 family of helicopters.

What say you?


Filed under planes

Carriers, Mobility, Stealth and Initiative

Think Defence today has a post on the difficulty a potential foe faces in finding a carrier at sea. It is (like virtually all content there) well worth reading the whole thing.

Aircraft carriers are difficult to detect.

Perhaps more importantly, they are difficult to identify. Regarding the difficulty of detection, the seas are very big and, in comparison, even the biggest of aircraft carriers are very small. Modern maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) have radars that have ranges of hundreds of nautical miles (nm) but oceans extend for thousands of nautical miles.

Moreover, radar impulses can be detected by electronic support measures (ESM) systems at significantly greater range than the radar can detect the platform (air or surface or even submarine) carrying the ESM. In wartime, an MPA using its radar gives itself away, opening the way to it either being intercepted and shot down before it can locate the carrier, or to the carrier simply altering course and avoiding the MPA.

Of course, MPAs also have ESM, but this works only if the carrier and its task group (Carrier Battle Group: CBG) are emitting electromagnetically.

But if the CBG has adopted strict electromagnetic silence (and it can do so & this is exercised), then there is nothing to detect. So the MPA is reduced to the Mark 1 eyeball as its only useful sensor.

When I think of most post-World War II significant carrier operations, I generally consider their use in Korea, Vietnam, and of course, operations in the Persian Gulf, where they essentially stayed in fixed positions, and acted like additional airfields. The lack of significant enemy ability to interdict our forces at sea allowed us to sacrifice one of the carrier task forces’ greatest assets, mobility, at little risk.

Prior to World War II, it was widely assumed that operating carrier forces within range of enemy land based airpower was a recipe for disaster, and that shore based airpower would quickly sink or damage any carrier force. The first clue that this wasn’t quite so true came December 7, 1941.

Successful, if not highly fruitful, US attacks against Japanese outposts in early 1942 showed that by choosing the time and place to attack, carriers could operate to impede or suppress shore based airpower, and retire out of range before an effective Japanese counterstroke could be brought to bear.

The Fast Carrier Task Force (TF38/TF58) would often operate in wide ranging support of amphibious landings in the Pacific War. While FCTC would of course raid the target of a landing, it would also strike enemy installations far afield, to deny the enemy the ability to reinforce the defense of our objective, and to a degree, to conceal our objective. The ability of the FCTF to move hundreds of miles each day, to attack in unexpected places, meant the Japanese often struggled to counterattack. It was only at times when the fast carriers were tied to an objective that the Japanese were able to mount large scale raids to attack our fleet. The most obvious example of this is the horrible attrition imposed on the fleet while supporting operations at Okinawa.

After the Vietnam War, the Navy looked at what it might be required to do in a World War III scenario versus the Soviet Union. The primary task was to secure the sea lanes to Europe. The primary Soviet threats to the sea lanes were submarines, and long range land based bombers armed with cruise missiles.  We’ll leave the discussion of the submarine threat to another time, but the Navy realized it would be called upon to stop the long range bomber threat, both as a threat to merchant shipping, and to the carrier forces themselves.  Soviet long range aviation had a much longer strike range than the organic airwing of carriers. To charge in and raid the Soviet bomber bases, the carriers would have to be able to avoid detection. And so they spent a fair portion of the coldest days of the Cold War learning to do just that.

The force transits to its objective area in complete electronic silence. Deceptive formations are used dispersed over a broad area to ensure any detection system does not see the classic “bullseye” formation made famous in countless Public Affairs shots and never used in operations. Broad surveillance systems are known so any detection method is countered either by denying sensor information, misleading, or providing expected results consistent with something else. For example, ESM systems rely on active emissions from radars or communication systems. So nothing is radiated. Overhead systems are in known orbits, are predictable, and their sensing capabilities known. So the track is varied, weather is sought out to hide in when vulnerable, blending into sea lanes (while staying out of visual detection range of ships) and such techniques. Deceptive lighting is used at night so that the obvious “blacked out warship” is instead thought to be a merchant or cruise liner. Surface search radar identical to commercial ones are used. Turn count masking is used by the ships. Aircraft maintenance on the CV and other helo equipped ships is limited to prevent transmissions.

In NORPAC 82 using these and other tactics the CV force operated close enough to support each other, but far enough and randomly dispersed to avoid identification by anyone. One night in bad weather a man went overboard when the ship was within 200nm of a Soviet airfield in the Kuril Island chain. Despite launch of helicopters and active search methods by several ships in the successful SAR, including clear voice UHF transmissions, the force is not detected because no Soviet asset was above the radar horizon. No overhead system was cued. The force continued on.

The Chinese have spent the last 20 years developing anti-access/area-denial tactics, techniques, and procedures. And to be sure, any operations against China would be significantly different than operations in the northern reaches of the Atlantic or Pacific.

But to blithely dismiss the ability of a carrier strike group to avoid detection (or at a minimum, to avoid being recognized as a carrier group) is to overlook the long history of carrier groups successfully approaching enemy shores.


Filed under China, Defense, history, navy


Prior to World War II, the Army and Navy were relatively small services, and the percentages of married troops and sailors was quite small. But in the wake of World War II, and with the beginning of the Cold War, for the first time, America had a large standing Army and Navy. And the numbers of married soldiers and sailors, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the force, swelled. For the first time, housing for family members became a real issue for the force. Previously, posts had only a handful of quarters available on post for families. The rest were expected to find rental quarters off post. But the huge numbers of families overwhelmed available housing outside the gate of most posts.

In response, Congress first passed the Wherry housing program. Contractors would build quarters and lease them to the military for 40 years. But the program was considered a failure due to a lack of standard designs, cramped quarters, and poor quality control.

The next initiative was more successful. Named after its sponsor in the senate, Homer Capehart (R-IN), a series of standardized housing designs were produced. With Capehart housing, private contractors would build to the design provided by the government, and the government would retain ownership of the quarters, and provide, either through Public Works or contractor support, all maintenance and infrastructure support. In effect, the post commander would be the landlord. Before a post could receive funding for Capehart housing, the service had to assure the Congress that the installation was a permanent one, and would not be closed in the foreseeable future.

Between 1955 and 1964, nearly a quarter million Capehart housing units were built nationwide.

And if Capehart housing isn’t terribly attractive, it has been long lived.  Most installations that had Capehart housing still use it. Over the last 60 years, surely millions upon millions have called these cookie cutter houses home. Indeed, I spent five years in them.


Filed under armor

Military Monday – Where ARE the WWII Military Records | Generations

Got a family member that fought in World War II? Want to learn more of their history? Our friend Jennifer Holik does it professionally, but she’s also got some great tips for the DIYers out there.

And poke around. She’s got a ton of other good stuff.

Today I was Googling and looking for information on WWII for a biography I’m writing for a client’s family member who served in the Signal Corps. When I research anything WWII, I start with Google and look for books that I can get at the fabulous Pritzker Military Museum and Library here in Chicago or through inter-library loan or to purchase my own copy. I look for digitized Field Manuals and Technical Manuals and Training Manuals. I look for records at various repositories so I know where to email or send a letter asking for a search if I cannot get there myself. And I search the NARA record groups thoroughly before moving on to the categorized list of websites I’ve gathered. Because of the type of research and writing I do, I dig very deeply and try to solve every question (this doesn’t always happen.)

As I was searching I ran across an “experts” website and a query posted by someone seeking information and a response by a man which really irked me. I read more of the queries this man responded to and searched online for him and saw he responds on many boards. Yet the more I read the more confused I became. His responses, even from 2013, told users that basically the records didn’t all burn in St. Louis and it was a crime that NARA was telling people they couldn’t get their ancestor’s record and that only next-of-kin could get records for WWII. He told people the IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel Files) contained all the service record information. He told people the “Unit histories (Morning Reports)” were in the U.S. Army War College. Ummmmm…..no they are not the same record and no they are not there. His tone was also condescending and rude which I did not like. It also appeared that he was willing to take all your information but if you wanted any in return you had to pay for his services. Now I’m in the business of research but I really believe that you have to give something back to the community that helps you learn and grow.

via Military Monday – Where ARE the WWII Military Records | Generations.

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Filed under history

USS Constitution vs. HMS Java

On December 29, 1812, the frigate USS Constitution fought and captured the British frigate HMS Java.

USS Constitution vs HMS Java, 29 December 1812. Artwork by Anton Otto Fischer. Courtesy of Ms. Katrina S. Fischer. NHHC Photograph Collection

This battle would see the USS Constitution earn her moniker “Old Ironsides” and cement her place in history. To this day, she serves as a commissioned warship of the United States Navy.

To say the British were stunned would be an understatement. In 1812, the Royal Navy was the virtually uncontested master of every sea. By far the largest navy in the world, the Royal Navy had also attained a level of experience and proficiency few other fleets could hope to even approach.

The fledgling US Navy could never hope to directly contest the vast Royal Navy. But the original “Six Frigates” were excellent ships, and in general were well crewed, well drilled, and importantly, very well built and armed.

The US adopted a strategy of commerce raiding. Swarms of privateers were issued letters of marque to prey upon British commerce. And the frigates of the US Navy set out both to raid commerce, and when possible, to interdict British warships that were similarly attempting to interdict American shipping.

The strategy wasn’t to defeat the British, nor even to fully interdict British shipping, but rather impose an inconvenience and cost upon that British, already fully engaged fighting the French, that would encourage domestic political support for the war against American to wane.  The commerce raiding portion of the strategy was arguably fairly successful. But an argument could be made that the stunning series of victories of US frigates against their British peers caused the British to steel their resolve to punish the neophyte American fleet.

The series of frigate engagement of in the War of 1812 had little direct impact on the course of the war. It did give the US Navy a wealth of tradition to build upon, touchstones that still resonate to this day.


Theodore Roosevelt wrote a history of the Naval War of 1812, available for free.


Filed under navy

Not quite up to CGSC standards- But not bad, either.

We wrote a while back about the standard format 5-paragraph operations order used to plan operations throughout the Army, from the squad level to the highest echelons.

Craig, our resident expert on the American Civil War thought we (and you) might be interested in a look at what a written field order looked like in that war. As he notes, it’s not in today’s format, but still hits all the high points.

Charleston, S.C., December 17, 1863.
I. Lieut. Col. Del. Kemper will take command of and organize an
expedition for the destruction of the U.S. steamers Pawnee and
Marblehead in the Stono River, near Legateville, to which end
First. Brigadier-General Wise will place at his disposition at least
500 infantry, under competent field officers junior to
Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper, as well as one company of his reserve
cavalry from Adams Run, and the following batteries:
1. Schulz’s battery as temporarily organized.
2. Charles’ battery.
3. One section (two 12-pounder Napoleon guns) of Marion Artillery,
Captain Smith’s company of siege train (four 8-inch howitzers), and
Captain Webb’s company, siege train (two 30-pounder Parrotts), will
also report to Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper forthwith at Church Flats,
with one week’s rations and forage.
Second. General Wise will also direct Major Jenkins with his command
to report to Colonel Kemper, temporarily, at or about Legareville, to
be employed to the best advantage in guarding the approaches to his
position near that point.
II. The verbal instructions already given by the commanding general
must be carried out with the utmost secrecy and with dispatch.
III. The labor of throwing up the three batteries near Legareville
will be executed by the troops at night only where exposed to view,
care being taken to conceal the work done, with bushes, from
observation of the enemy during the day.
IV. Special precaution will be observed not to expose the troops to
the view of the enemy’s lookouts while marching toward Legareville or
to and from their work.
V. The three batteries thrown up for this operation will be armed each
with four pieces, as follows, to wit:
1. Upper Battery: One section of Marion Artillery, one 8-inch siege
howitzer, and one rifled gun of Schulz’s battery.
2. Middle Battery: Two 30-pounder Parrott guns and two 8-inch
howitzers of siege train.
3. Lower Battery: Three 10-pounder Parrotts (Schulz’s battery) and one
8-inch siege howitzer.
VI. The guns of these batteries will be placed in position at night,
and must open at daylight Christmas morning, if practicable, and will
endeavor to destroy or capture the two steamers in the Stono.
VII. The reserve infantry with Charles’ battery will be stationed
behind the hedge running across the peninsula of Legareville, and will
open fire upon that place simultaneously with the batteries, and, if
possible, must capture the enemy’s force stationed there, after which,
will burn what is left of that village.
VIII. After the accomplishment of these objects, as far as
practicable, the troops under Colonel Kemper will return,
respectively, to their present position.
IX. A sufficient number of ambulances will accompany the expedition.
X. Chiefs of staff, corps, or departments, will give all necessary aid
required for the prompt execution of these important orders.
By command of General Beauregard:
Chief of Staff.


Filed under history

Continental AD, SAGE, IBM, and the computer revolution

We wrote about the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment that managed Continental Air Defense during the Cold War. When they were first fielded, the AN/FSQ-7 computer was the most advanced digital computer to ever enter production.

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The Leader’s Recon

Craig has a nifty little post on a critical element of the planning process, the leader’s reconnaissance.

“Did you conduct a leader’s recon?”

That’s a question often asked during post-exercise assessments in today’s Army.  The leader’s reconnaissance holds a key position in the troop leading procedures and mission planning.  That holds true from squad to battalion level (though the scope of operations from brigade higher tend to make a leader’s reconnaissance impractical).  The Ranger Handbook explains the importance of the leader’s reconnaissance:

The plan must include a leader’s reconnaissance of the objective…. During his reconnaissance, the leader pinpoints the objective, selects reconnaissance, security, support, and assault positions for his elements, and adjusts his plan based on his observation of the objective.

Now in context, the Bible… er… Ranger Handbook focuses on small unit patrol operations.  But considering a modern day infantry company might hold a position assigned to a Civil War-era corps, the fundamentals translate well to historical situations. And, the leader’s reconnaissance concept applies to any mission. Particularly a river crossing.

Entirely true.

The old saying that in combat plans are useless, but planning is everything is a bit of an oversimplification.

One of the frustrations I used to have in some units was that the way graded evaluations of collective unit training was set up lead units to emphasis those preparatory efforts prior to battle, such as occupying an assembly area and how units employ the Troop Leading Procedures.

We’d spend so much time working on those parts of the evaluation that inevitably the actual training for the actions on the objective were slighted. And inevitably, we’d pay a penalty when the actual simulated battle took place.

Here’s the perverse part- so much of an evaluation was against a checklist of standards that doing well on the non-fighting part and checking the blocks of the fighting part, even if your unit fared poorly, led to an overall evaluation that your unit was doing well. That style of evaluation glossed over the fact that the actions prior to battle only had value in that they increased your chances of actual victory in battle.

FM 3-21.71 MECHANIZED INFANTRY PLATOON AND SQUAD (BRADLEY) says that at a minimum a Leader’s Recon must include a map reconnaissance.  That might be minimally acceptable if enemy observation and security would compromise a physical reconnaissance. But far too often, I saw junior officers too consumed in the minutia of the TLP would run out of time to actually perform a physical reconnaissance (let alone take the squad leaders along), and substitute instead a brief glance at the map and graphics for an operation.  That’s almost understandable on some attack missions, but it’s incredible that often in the defense the leadership would fail to go forward of the defensive position and simply look at the terrain from the enemy’s point of view. Far too often leaders would formulate the plan, publish it, and only then conduct any sort of leader’s recon.

Craig’s post shows a leader’s recon of a river crossing site by BG Hazen (go ahead and read the whole thing, it’s quite short). Note that BG Hazen’s recon of the objective not only informs him, but helps shape the plan itself.

There was an old German saying- time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.



The Battle of Leyte Gulf

We’ve been busier (and lazier) than usual, so we didn’t have a real chance to write up a battle this year. We’ve always wanted to write about this one, but the sheer scope of the Battle of Leyte Gulf makes such an effort quite daunting.

The largest, and in many ways, most complex, sea battle of all time. Virtually every weapon of naval warfare engaged- PT Boats, Amphibious assaults, destroyers, cruisers, battleships, subs, carriers big and small, land based and carrier based planes, gun, rocket, bomb, torpedo. The whole shooting match, over a vast area and with a nearly incomprehensible number of ships and planes and men. Some of the most decisive engagements in the history of war, and some of the more spectacular errors of war at sea. And stories of valor, courage, that shall echo throughout history.

H/T: CDR Salamander. I knew as sure as the sun rising in the East that this would be the topic of today’s Fullbore Friday.

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Filed under history, navy

Battleship Texas

A while back, friend of the blog Aggiesprite went to visit the Battleship Texas Memorial, and kindly shared a few pics with us. I thought I’d posted them, but they got stuck in draft limbo somehow. I was reminded when our other friend of the blog Zekexas posted pics of his trip to BBTXM today.  Zekexas is a pretty good photog, so go take a look.

At any event, since Aggie went to all the trouble of taking pics of the old grey gal for me, I should post them.

BT14 battleship texas1 BT2 BT3 BT4 BT5 BT6 BT7 BT8 BT9 BT10 BT11 BT12 BT13

USS Texas, BB-35, was commissioned in 1914, and served in both World War I and World War II. She was decommissioned and stricken from the register in 1948.

She’s the only American example of a Dreadnought battleship remaining. At the time, the 27,000 ton New York class battleships were among the largest warships ever built. Mind you, today the  Gerald R. Ford is under construction, and will weigh in around 100,000 tons. And huge numbers of merchant ships displace far, far more.

Still, her ten 14”/45cal guns, in five twin turrets, were quite powerful, and were put to good use fighting during the invasion of North Africa in 1942,and the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944.  In 34 minutes of sustained fire, she placed 255 14” shells on the Pointe du Hoc emplacements thought to contain a battery of 155mm guns. The Rangers assault on Pointe du Hoc is one of the more famous events of that incredible day.

Texas would also engage in a duel with the shore batteries of Cherbourg*, the Dragoon invasion of Southern France, and the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Texas was an innovative ship. She was among the second generation of US Dreadnought battleships, shifting from 12” to 14” guns. She also was the first to implement modern fire controls such as rangefinders, directors and rangekeepers** She was the first US battleship to operate and airplane, and was a pioneer in the use of aircraft as spotters for gunfire, greatly improving accuracy at long ranges. She was also an early adopter of radar, mounting the Navy’s first operational air search set, the CXAM-1.

Almost immediately after the war, the state of Texas sought to turn their namesake into a museum. By 1948, she’d been pulled out of reserve, towed to Texas, laid up.  But time has not been kind to the flagship of the Texas Navy. She languished in disrepair until by 1988, she was in great danger of sinking. Indeed, when she was under tow to a drydock, leaks were so bad she was almost unable to be docked. A two year refurbishment brought her back to a much better state, but her advanced age and riveted hull means she still suffers from significant leaks, making the battle to keep her open an ongoing and costly one. Currently Texas is trying to convert her to a permanent dry berth, which hopefully will be complete by 2017.

In the meantime, at 99-1/2 years old, she’s still proud to represent Texas.

For some interior shots, MurdocOnline went on the rare hard-hat tour of her back in 2007.

*She was hit twice by 240mm shells, with 11 wounded, one later succumbing to his wounds.

**A rangekeeper was an early analog fire control computer used not just to plot the present location of a target, but to predict its future range and bearing to account for the time of flight of the ships guns projectiles.


Filed under history, navy

CPT William Swenson to be presented Medal of Honor

This is for his actions in the same engagement where SGT Dakota Meyers earned his.

Office of the Press Secretary
September 16, 2013
President Obama to Award Medal of Honor
On October 15, 2013, President Barack Obama will award William Swenson, a former active duty Army Captain, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Captain Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of the Afghan National Security Forces with Afghan Border Police Mentor Team, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
Captain Swenson will be the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.
Captain William D. Swenson separated from the Army on February 1, 2011 and currently resides in Seattle, Washington. He is single.
Captain Swenson was commissioned as an Army Officer upon completing Officer Candidate School on September 6, 2002. His military training and education includes: Infantry Maneuver Captains Career Course, Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Basic, Infantry Mountain Leader Advanced Marksmanship Course, Airborne, Officer Candidate School.
At the time of the September 8, 2009 combat engagement, Captain Swenson was an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of Afghan National Security Forces. His actions were performed as part of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division.
His military decorations include: Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge

I stole this from John Donovan’s facebook feed. Thanks, John. John also mentions his suspicion that, for whatever reason, the Bush era DoD had a strong reluctance to consider any award of the MoH to surviving troops, whereas the Obama administration has not shown such reluctance.

Interestingly, this is the second small unit engagement that has seen the award of the MoH to two participants. Both here and the battle of COP Keating were desperate fights, and both came in for widespread criticism for the way Big Army handled the fight. I have a suspicion that the scrutiny of the fights has lead to greater documentation of the actions, which in turn raised the visibility of the participants, and led to greater supporting documentation for the awards process. Of course, in CPT Swenson’s case, the awards package was “lost” leading to a delay in the decision to make the award. That’s absolutely shameful.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, history

Small Town Hero

Mav mentioned:

Every small town in this great nation holds some interesting history and this was the history in mine.

I’m visiting in The Dalles, OR, a small town on the edge of the Columbia River. It’s a lovely town, with a stunning view of the Columbia Gorge.


It’s also the hometown of  Medal of Honor awardee SFC Loren R. Kaufman.


Sfc. Kaufman distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. On the night of 4 September the company was in a defensive position on 2 adjoining hills. His platoon was occupying a strong point 2 miles away protecting the battalion flank. Early on 5 September the company was attacked by an enemy battalion and his platoon was ordered to reinforce the company. As his unit moved along a ridge it encountered a hostile encircling force. Sfc. Kaufman, running forward, bayoneted the lead scout and engaged the column in a rifle and grenade assault. His quick vicious attack so surprised the enemy that they retreated in confusion. When his platoon joined the company he discovered that the enemy had taken commanding ground and pinned the company down in a draw. Without hesitation Sfc. Kaufman charged the enemy lines firing his rifle and throwing grenades. During the action, he bayoneted 2 enemy and seizing an unmanned machine gun, delivered deadly fire on the defenders. Following this encounter the company regrouped and resumed the attack. Leading the assault he reached the ridge, destroyed a hostile machine gun position, and routed the remaining enemy. Pursuing the hostile troops he bayoneted 2 more and then rushed a mortar position shooting the gunners. Remnants of the enemy fled to a village and Sfc. Kaufman led a patrol into the town, dispersed them, and burned the buildings. The dauntless courage and resolute intrepid leadership of Sfc. Kaufman were directly responsible for the success of his company in regaining its positions, reflecting distinct credit upon himself and upholding the esteemed traditions of the military service.

SFC Kaufman was killed in action in Korea before his award was presented.

High above the town, in a beautiful, immaculately maintained park, there is a memorial to him, and to the other veterans of this small town who have gone forth to serve their nation and its ideals.


Almost every town in America has something similar. And I’m always compelled to take a moment and enjoy each town’s, and reflect upon what a great nation I have had the honor and privilege to serve.


Filed under history

Just because you’ve been discharged doesn’t mean you don’t still have a duty.

We’ve borrowed this most excellent letter from An Enlightened Soldier.

GEN “Skinny” Wainwright had the unenviable duty of surrendering US (and Philippine) forces in the Philippines to the Japanese in World War II. He endured the rest of the war in captivity. His sense of duty led him to believe he deserved court martial for failure to accomplish his mission and save his command. Instead, when the Japanese delegation boarded the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 to sign the articles of capitulation, GEN Wainwright stood by General of the Army MacArthur in a place of honor.

His command to his soldiers then is every bit as valid today.


Filed under army, history, veterans, war

Planespotting-done poorly

So, no pics… at least, none of mine.

One of the things I’d hoped to do while here on Whidbey was get in a little planespotting. And I’ve done a fair bit. I’m right under the approach to RWY 25 at NAS Whidbey (KNUW), which is currently the only active runway. So everything comes right by here.  Of course, mostly it is the usual Prowlers, Growlers, and Orions. Which are all fun to watch.  But we’ve also seen a few other odds and ends, such as the local C-9 transport, a C-40B Clipper (the Navy version of the 737) and possibly a P-8, a 737 variant specializing in maritime patrol. We missed a great chance to get a pic of a C-17 transport. And of course, there’s always the local Search And Rescue (SAR) helo, an MH-60S Knighthawk. We’re used to seeing ‘hawks of various sorts from our time in the Army. So when I heard a helo this morning, I simply assumed it was the only assigned type, the Knighthawk. But it sounded a little odd. After about the third pass, I strolled out for a smoke, and was delighted to see it the reason it didn’t sound like a ‘hawk was because it wasn’t one at all. It was a Canadian CH-124 Sea King.  I was dismayed that I ‘d not brought a camera at all. Sorry.

File:CH-124 Sea King.jpg

Here’s a pic I missed a chance to take.

2011 was the Centennial of Naval Aviation, and one of the things the Navy did to celebrate was to paint various fleet aircraft in color schemes of days gone by. And of these schemes, one was a neat retro look of how the P-3 Orion was dressed when introduced into service in the early 1960s. I was pleased to see that it was, in fact, a local bird, and still clad in the attractive Midnight Blue upper, with white lower surfaces. Of course, I didn’t have a camera handy to take pics of it in the pattern. For that matter, I was busy driving, and couldn’t have gotten any pics without risking life and limb. I appreciate you, dear reader, but not enough to die for you just to get the picture.

Lockheed P-3C Orion aircraft picture

This is the bird, but obviously, not my pic.


Filed under planes


68 years ago, high above the city of Hiroshima, the crew of the 509th Composite Group B-29 Enola Gay, led by the Group Commander, 29 year old Colonel Paul Tibbets, unleashed a single bomb.

The devastation unleashed upon Hiroshima by this single blast was unprecedented in all of human history. Other cities, Tokyo in particular, had seen more damage, but never so instantaneously.

Three days later, a similar fate would befall Nagasaki. And 8 days later, Japan would sue for peace. The cataclysm of the 20th century, World War II, would come to a sudden halt. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who knew in their bones that the invasion of Japan was just ahead, were suddenly free to consider that they might actually live, return home, and possibly even grow old.

Warfare would be forever changed. Every conflict since has seen the major powers strive to fight and win, and yet not so decisively that another major power would feel the need to resort to the ultimate in conflict resolution.



Filed under history

Admiral Sandy Woodward, hero of the Falklands, dies at 81

The Admiral that lead the Royal Navy on one of the most significant post-WWII naval battles has passed at 81.


Admiral Woodward commanded the naval force sent by Margaret Thatcher to the islands after they were invaded by Argentina in 1982.

Later he was an outspoken opponent of Government cuts to the Navy and warned Britain no longer had a large enough fleet to launch a similar operation.

His daughter said he died after a long illness.

You may have noticed that I’ve written about the Falklands before.

As Admiral Woodward noted before his passing, today’s Royal Navy simply no longer has the ability to launch such a large sortie. Likely, even with the introduction of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers in a decade or so, the RN never will again be of sufficient size to display a mastery of the seas. Such a sad fate of what was once the greatest navy the world had ever seen.

A navy that has a history with some of the great captains and admirals likely had its last huzzah with Admiral Sir John “Sandy” Woodward.

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Filed under history, navy

The Battle of Midway- First Moves

Traditionally, the Battle of Midway is listed as occurring over 4/5 June, 1942. But a proper appreciation of the battle also has to take into account the actions of 3 June 1942.

SteelJawScribe a few years ago wrote a fantastic thumbnail history of the battle, and rather than recount in my own feeble way, I’ll link to him.

One of the amazing things about looking back at Midway is just how decisive it was (though that would take a long time to be fully apparent) and frankly, just how small it was.  While virtually the entire Japanese fleet was tasked for the operation, in effect, only the four carriers were engaged. And virtually the entirety of available US Navy assets were deployed, a total of three carriers with cruiser and destroyer escort. In three short years, a three carrier force would be the hallmark of a decidedly subsidiary operation, not the entirety of the Navy.


Filed under history

FiFi Goes Flying

I’d sell URR’s spare kidney for a chance at a ride like this.

Mind you, when FiFi goes flying today, she’s taking off from nice long concrete runways, minus many tons of bombs and fuel. Makes it a touch easier than flying off of Tinian or Saipan.


Filed under planes

Memorial Day

April 19, 1775 saw an advance guard of British regulars sally from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts, in an effort to seize arms and powder from “rebel” militias formed by colonists.

About 80 colonial militiamen were formed on the green when the British arrived. In a brief, confused skirmish, a shot was fired. No one really knows who fired first, but that first shot was followed by a concentrated volley by the British into the ranks of the militia. Eight Americans would fall in the defense of their liberty.

John Brown

Samuel Hadley

Caleb Harrington

Jonathon Harrington

Robert Munroe

Isaac Muzzey

Asahel Porter

Jonas Parker

Since that day, almost 850,000 Americans have fallen in combat. Another 430,000 have died from disease or injury in war.

Even today, Americans spill their blood in defense of liberty. Let us rededicate ourselves today to ensuring that we are worthy of the price they paid.


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Filed under history

Does the Army Still Need Armor?

That’s the question posed by this piece at Foreign Affairs. Sadly, it’s a premium article, so I can’t read the whole thing, just the set up. But it does raise the question. Do we still need heavy forces in an era of a “pivot to Asia?”

I’ll just note that we’ve actually spent a lot of time post-World War II fighting in Asia, and armor was important in every fight.

Plus, here’s a tank.

Continue reading


Filed under armor, army

Now’s not the time for slash and burn

At least, not when it comes to active duty troop levels.

One of my frustrations when frequenting Milblogs with a naval or air centric theme is that in tough budget times, the authors and commentariat are quick to offer up ground forces on the budget alter. “Oh, put the bulk of ground forces in the reserves!”

Well, here’s the thing. In the almost seven decades since the end of World War II, we’ve found ourselves time and again involved in manpower intensive ground combat.

Recently, retired Admiral Gary Roughead and defense analyst Kori Schake published a paper from the Brookings institution recommending that, in effect, all the looming budget cuts in DoD should come from the Army, and that the Navy and Air Force should see their funding levels maintained.

First, thanks guys, for validating the suspicion many of us harbored that AirSea Battle wasn’t a doctrine, but political maneuvering to preserve Navy/Air Force budgets. One can hardly fault a former Chief of Naval Operations for being a tad proprietary when it comes to his service’s budget.*

But to wave your hands and pronounce that henceforth, wars will be high technology affairs with little or no need for manpower intensive operations is to ignore not just the last seven decades of history, but all of history.

Comes now Steve Metz and Douglas Lovelace, arguing that, like it or not, we still need ground troops.

It would be nice if the United States could simply opt out of all messy conflicts, but it cannot. Global connectivity means that conflict in any part of the world has cascading effects. These are most intense in neighboring states or regions as combatants, refugees, money, disorder, crime, and weapons flow back and forth, but in most cases will spread even further. The recent conflict in Libya shows this contagion effect, when there is no sustainable security following the defeat of an enemy regime. In the future, major conflicts anywhere will affect the global and American economies, increasing commodity prices, disrupting the supply of goods and services, and creating uncertainty. U.S. economic growth will depend, in part, on whether the global economy is generally stable or conflict-ridden. This will make it difficult or impossible for the United States to totally avoid major conflicts (although it does not mean the U.S. will intervene militarily in every major conflict). The profusion of global diasporas will also make it politically difficult to ignore major crises or conflicts.

Now, Metz and Lovelace are not unbiased, either. They work for the Army War College at the Strategic Studies Institute.  But they’re quite right that in spite of all our efforts to avoid messy operations on the ground, we seem to always end up there.

I’ll grant that one reason we tend to fight land wars is that in recent history, our naval power has been so overwhelming as to effectively preclude a naval war. And I do fully support the nation keeping a strong, forward naval presence throughout those areas of the world that hold our strategic interest. But the Navy has done poorly at managing the relatively strong support it has received. That’s not to say the Army has done much better, but before the Navy and the Air Force raid the Army’s budget, maybe they ought to consider which branch has born the brunt of the nation’s fighting for the past 70 years.


*We’d be a lot more sympathetic if his term as CNO hadn’t been such a goatrope in terms of shipbuilding.


Filed under Air Force, army, history, navy, Politics, war