Tag Archives: history

Bastogne Historical Marker in danger?

Reader Mike from the Netherlands sent us a tip that the American Historical Marker in Bastogne may be in danger, due to drawdowns in the Belgian Army.

Important American Historical Marker at Bastogne to be bulldozed ?

As you may already understand, the Belgian Army is, once again, facing drastic financial cutbacks over the next few years.  Despite the substantial number of closings that have been effected in the past, a new wave of shut-downs for other Army Bases will soon become a reality.

Sadly, this information will quite likely pass with little fanfare or publicity through media, as it is the norm for our times.  And it is my fear that people may miss one of the most tragic details these actions would include:   The closing of Bastogne’s Army Base and the most important Historical Marker of the defense of Bastogne by the 101st Airborne Division and attached units in World War II.

The Army Base was the 101st Airborne Headquarters during the siege at the end of December 1944.  This base was, indeed, the Headquarters where General McAuliffe responded with his historical message to the Germans’ demand for surrender: “NUTS.”

Any Screaming Eagles out there?

It’s bad enough our European allies are unwilling to spend money on their own defense.

I’ll say this, Belgium (and the Dutch) have done good work in memorializing and recognizing the sacrifices young Americans made to end fascism and free their peoples from the yoke of Nazi tyranny. But the ranks of those who survived and immediately benefitted from that are thinning, just as the ranks of our own World War II vets are rapidly diminishing. Will the Benelux nations continue to remember? I suspect so, and I certainly hope so.

Bastogne, of course, was the site of one of the key engagements of the Battle of the Bulge. The Ardennes Counteroffensive remains the largest battle in the history of the US Army, and certainly deserves to be remembered and memorialized.

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A Century of Service in the Russian Navy.

Spill pointed this tidbit to me. The Russians operate a submarine tender/salvage ship that has been in commission since 1915!

The Oldest Active Navy Ship Is A Century Old Russian Submarine Tender

English Russia also has a great collection of photos of the Kommuna.

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Filed under history, ships


From requirement to prototype in 38 days, and placed into production with only minor changes throughout the run.

In the very early days of World War II, as the Army grasped that it would be required to conduct major amphibious assaults in virtually every theater it deployed to, it also realized that the real challenge wouldn’t be getting forces ashore, but rather sustaining them with supplies over the assault beaches until port facilities could be captured. The plan was to use the same landing craft that lifted the assault troops to haul supplies. The trouble there was that transferring cargo from beaching craft to trucking ashore was time and manpower intensive. And so, the National Defense Research Council had a flash of brilliance. Why not build an amphibious truck?

The respected yacht designers of Sparkman and Stephens sat down with GMC, and quickly produced a prototype. Taking a variant of the recently introduced CCKW 6×6 2-1/2 ton truck, they added a sealed buoyant hull, a propeller and rudder, and viola! the amphibious truck was born. Under the GMC naming convention of the time, D stood for designed in 1942, U for amphibious, K for all-wheel drive, and W for dual rear axles. Hence, DUKW, which quickly became to the GI tongue, the Duck.


The DUKW was a surprisingly seaworthy truck, and much faster on land than any other boat.  About 21,000 were produced by 1945, and served in the US Army and the Marines in just about every theater after North Africa.

Interesting tidbit. The documentary interviews Marines that operated DUKWs. In the Army, most were operated by African American soldiers in segregated units. The invasion of Iwo Jima is pretty much considered an all Marine Corps show, but Army Amphibian Truck Companies including the 476 ATC supported the operation, with its soldiers earning five Silver Stars and seventeen Bronze Stars, as well as the company being awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. That’s a hell of a record for a transportation company.

Over the years, many DUKWs have found their way through surplus sales into civilian hands, and they popular tour boats in places such as the Wisconsin Dells. That hasn’t been without risk. The sinking of a DUKW in Arkansas in 1999 cost 12 lives due to poor safety measures in place.

Still, the DUKW design was remarkably sound, given the time it took to develop, and was an extremely valuable tool in the amphibious operations of the war.


Filed under army

The Brodie System

We’ve actually written about it before, but the video linked then has been removed, so here’s some more. Via War is Boring, with a tip o’ the hat to Comrade Arthur.

Here’s the short video:


And here’s a longer video showing more detail.

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Filed under army, history, navy

Matt Udkow- Someone You Should Know

Weird thing about internet friends. You think you know someone… and then you learn something new about them. In this case, it was nice to learn that Matt was not just the kind of man I thought he was, but very much the kind of man one can admire.

Matt is currently an MH-65C helicopter pilot for the United States Coast Guard. But he started his aviation career with the US Navy, flying the big old H-3 Sea King. And so it came to pass that when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Matt, then stationed at Pensacola, Florida, was flying a logistical support mission from P’cola to Louisiana.

You may recall the scenes of helicopters of all sorts hoisting stranded New Orleans residents from rooftops to safety. Guess what? Matt was one of those aviators engaged in rescuing our fellow Americans.

In Matt’s own words:

I was blessed to serve as the SAR officer and pilot with the NAS Pensacola SAR Unit (renamed Helicopter Support Unit) from 2003 ?to 2005. During this period, my crew and I had the opportunity to assist with the SAR efforts in the New Orleans area following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Out first SAR mission was on 30 August (27 persons hoisted), and the second one was conducted on 2 September 2005 (20 persons hoisted). In my opinion, these two missions were the pinnacle of my naval flight career.

Here’s the caption to this picture from Naval Aviation News:

Twenty survivors were happy to be off the flooded ground. The seated man on the right wearing a white t-shirt had a heart-attack on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport. I informed the tower, and we received permission to land in front of a huge line of helos and fly right over the terminal to drop him off first to waiting paramedics. AO3 Danny Smith, the crewman at the door, did a great job hoisting and managing the passengers, plus the three crew members and one photographer in the back. (Photo by Gary Nichols)

Now, being the military is a team sport. We love the image of the gallant individual, but no one man does great things. They all work together. So it is right and proper to share the credit with his crew:

My crew: (left to right): Myself (pilot), AW2 Jake Mclaughlin (rescue swimmer), AW2 Justin Crane (rescue swimmer), AW1 Kevin Maul (crew chief), Lt. Bryce Kammeyer (co-pilot). This was taken after landing after the first day, with two SAR sorties complete and 27 survivors hoisted. All of our crew and the civilian maintainers were very excited and proud of the work we had done.

Matt’s efforts were not without some controversy, however.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Two Navy helicopter pilots were “counseled” about the importance of supply missions after they rescued 110 New Orleans hurricane victims before returning to base from a cargo delivery, the military said Wednesday.

One pilot was temporarily assigned to a kennel, but that was not punishment, said Patrick Nichols, a civilian public affairs officer at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“They were not reprimanded,” Nichols said. “They were counseled.”

The pilots, Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand, met with Cmdr. Michael Holdener, who praised their Aug. 30 actions but reminded them their orders had been to return to Pensacola after flying water and other supplies to three destinations in Mississippi — the Stennis Space Center, Pascagoula and Gulfport.

Matt made a decision. In this case, the right one. As I mentioned in an earlier post, that’s a skill that junior officers need to learn. Make. A. Decision. Yes, every decision has consequences. But so does failing to make a decision.

47 American citizens today were spared from possible death or injury by Matt’s actions. That’s something a man can hang his hat on.


Filed under Coast Guard, helicopters, history, navy

Desert Storm- Day One

I’m reminded that this is the 24th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Desert St0rm.

Your humble scribe was then attached to A Company, 7th Battalion, 6th Infantry, a part of the 1st Armored Division. The company command group, the dismounts, and most of the company was deployed in an assembly area somewhere to the south of Kuwait. What wasn’t there were the Bradley crews, nor the Bradleys themselves. They were still on a ship en route from Germany. They wouldn’t arrive in the assembly area until February 1, 1991.

Our position was a triangular encampment with two man fighting positions chipped out of the hardpan of the desert floor. Our armament was individual rifles with about 40 rounds per soldier. The heaviest weapons were a pair of M2 .50cal machine guns, with 100 rounds each. Had the Iraqis launched a spoiling attack against us, it might have gotten a tad exciting.

I distinctly recall the night of 16-17 January. We’d been watching jets fly over our position for many days and nights. But this night, there were a whole lot more than usual. Pretty soon, listening to the AM radio broadcast of the BBC, we learned that the air war had begun. Several hours later, the Army got around to telling us the same thing through official channels.


Filed under history

YGBSM! The Birth of the Wild Weasel.

On 24 July, 1965, a USAF F-4C Phantom operating over North Vietnam was shot down by an S-75 Dvina surface to air missile (SAM). More popularly known by its NATO reporting name SA-2 Guideline, the S-75 was deployed in batteries of six semi-mobile launchers arrayed around a RSNA-75 Fan Song tracking radar and a P-12 Spoon Rest acquisition radar.

US losses from Soviet supplied, Vietnamese operated SAMS quickly mounted. Efforts to avoid the SAMs forced pilots lower, well within the lethal envelope of cheaper, less sophisticated Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA).

That the USAF was caught off guard by the SA-2 is nothing short of mind boggling. The SA-2 had claimed its first victim as far back as 1957, when it destroyed a Republic of China operated RB-57D. Further, the US was fully aware that the SA-2 had shot down Gary Powers’ U-2 over Russia on 1 May 1960. Over five years later, however, USAF (and for that matter, USN) tactical aircraft had no Radar Homing and Warning systems installed. Indeed, little thought hade been given to countering the SAM threat, even as the US employed huge numbers of a very similar system, the Nike Ajax/Nike Hercules, which could have served as a very valid proxy.

The Air Force’s first response to the SAM threat was Operation Iron Hand, an attempt to hunt down and bomb the SAM sites. This was surpassingly difficult, as the radar vans were generally well camouflaged and the Vietnamese relocated the sites regularly.  Generally the only way to visually identify a SAM site was to spot the tell-tale cloud of dust from a launch. But by the time a coordinated attack could be planned (say, the next day) the SAM battery would likely have relocated. As an added bonus, a AAA ambush was often set at the now unoccupied SAM site.

The Air Force’s next response was a crash program to form and equip an elite cadre of fighter pil0ts and Electronic Warfare Officers specially equipped to hunt down the SAMs and attack them.

Yesterday (Dec. 22- XBrad) marked forty-nine years to the day since the first success of the Wild Weasel concept in the skies over North Vietnam. In honor of that accomplishment which established the foundation of the modern SEAD/DEAD mission, we bring you the story of the very first kill on a surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacement by two of the very first United States Air Force aviators to earn the Wild Weasel name.

These two videos (about 60 minutes total) show the evolution of the first 20 years of the Wild Weasel mission, that is, 1965 to 1985.

Needless to say, it has continued since then. With the retirement of the F-4G Wild Weasel Phantoms in the early 1990s, the Wild Weasel mission has fallen to HARM equipped F-16CJs equipped with the HARM Targeting System (HTS) pod, a very miniature version of the F-4Gs APR-47.

A broader look at the SEAD and DEAD mission would also include the EA-6B and EF-18G both as jammers, locators, and active HARM shooters. Indeed, that’s just a small slice of the pie that is the total effort to stymie any enemy air defense network. Electronic intelligence aircraft such as the EP-3E Aries II help build the enemy Order of Battle by sniffing out the types and numbers of enemy air defense assets, a general idea of their location, and the frequencies they operate on, as well as the general trends of how an opponent uses those assets.


When first told of their obviously dangerous mission of flying into the teeth of the SAM sites, the universal response was, “You Gotta Be Shittin’ Me!”


Filed under Air Force, history