Tag Archives: World War II

The Death of Ernie Pyle

Stoop shouldered 44 year old correspondents aren’t normally an object of admiration and love for grunts. But World War II newsman Ernie Pyle was, undoubtedly, the exception.

While most correspondents covered the headquarters, the big picture, Ernie covered the dogfaces, the grunts, from North Africa to Italy, and from France to the far reaches of the Pacific.

He earned the Pulitzer Prize for his writing, his empathy for the hardships the average American soldier faced. He showed the humanity of the troops in that most inhumane arena, war.

Probably his best known column was The Death of Captain Waskow.

AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944 – In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

“After my own father, he came next,” a sergeant told me.

“He always looked after us,” a soldier said. “He’d go to bat for us every time.”

“I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair,” another one said.

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.

On this day in 1945, Ernie Pyle was accompanying officers of the 77th Division during a “minor” operation to seize the island of Ie Shima, near Okinawa. A concealed Japanese machine gun nest fired upon the group.  The four men dove into a ditch. Pyle, raising his head to check on the others, was struck in the left temple by a second burst of fire, and killed instantly.


Filed under World War II

Inspection Ready

Can you imagine an NCO meeting a Colonel, let alone a five star general, shirtless and greasy today?


My how times have changed.

There’s very much a place for spit and polish in the service. But there’s also very much a time for senior officers to see past the dog and pony shows and see what the actual conditions are.


Filed under history

Salient Visible Characteristics of Fighting Ships

from Fahey’s “Ships and Aircraft of the US Fleet

I have a knack for finding interesting militarily historical artifacts and after reviewing my purchases at the second annual Pritzker Military Museum and Library booksale, this is a lesson I keep having to relearn. I had that feeling I should purchase that copy of Fahey’s  “The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet“, in this instance, available there as a 5 volume set, which already having a tendency to listen to feeling, I purchased.

I found a document from the Office of Naval Intelligence dated 11 March 1942 titled: “Salient Visible Characteristics of Fighting Ships.” It provides an interesting glimpse of what the US Navy was like during World War 2. Thusly:

Hesitation caused by the uncertainty as to whether a vessel is friend or foe may lose for the aviator his opportunity to attack, and for the naval officer may result in the loss of a ship or failure to discharge a mission or destroy an enemy vessel.

Heady and still very relevant stuff especially for those currently deployed.

Below you’ll see my pictures of some of the document. Enjoy:











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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, history, navy, ships, veterans, war, World War II

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.


Filed under 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.


Filed under army, history

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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Surface Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons- Ahead Thrown Weapons

From the beginning of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), the development of weapons has been largely driven by the development of sensors, particularly sonar.

In Part I, we noted the challenge that an attacking escort would have to pass directly over a submerged submarine in order to attack. Early active sonars worked much like a searchlight, with the beam being narrow in both azimuth and depression. A deep diving submarine would pass under this beam at often fairly extended ranges. This meant that from the time when contact was lost until the depth charges detonated, as much as a minute could pass, and the target could maneuver to avoid damage or destruction.


The Royal Navy sought a way to deliver weapons to the target while it was still in sonar contact. Attempts at coordinated attacks with two or more escorts were tried, but the small number of escorts available, and the challenges of coordinating an attack made this approach less than successful. Ideally, a single escort would be able to gain contact, localize, track and attack a target without loss of contact.

There were attempts to develop an ahead thrown depth charge system, but that would have required a more powerful system than a K-Gun, and would have weighed far more. Worse still, when using conventional depth charges, the escort would be moving away from the blast. With an ahead thrown charge, the escort would be closing the blast. In the worst case scenario, an escort could sail over its own depth charge blast. And such a charge under the keep of an escort would be far more dangerous to the escort than to the target.

As with so many innovations in modern warfare, it was the British who devised a solution.  An officer of the Royal Artillery had been experimenting with ways to overcome shortcomings in trench mortars, and had devised a spigot mortar. Rather than having the round slide down a tube, the round instead went over a short spigot. This meant the size of the round wasn’t set by the size of the tube. A variety of warhead sizes could be thrown from any given spigot launcher.


While spigot mortars weren’t a wild success for ground combat, it didn’t take long for the Royal Navy to see the potential as an ASW weapon. By mounting 24 spigots on the foredeck of an escort, a pattern of charges could be thrown ahead of the attacking escort. As a bonus, the individual spigots could be arranged so the charges would land in a predictable pattern, either circular or elliptical.  Carefully timing the firing of the charges would mean the recoil forces would be spaced over time (meaning the ship would need little reinforcement, simplifying installation and needing less weight) and would cause all the charges to hit the water simultaneously.

Dubbed “Hedgehog” because the empty spigots resembled the spines of the critter, the ASW spigot mortar entered service with the RN in 1942, and quickly proved its efficacy. It was also rushed into production for the US Navy.

Each individual charge was roughly 32 pounds. Rather than using a time or depth fuze, Hedgehogs were contact fuzed only. If there were no explosions, the attacking ship knew it had missed. A single charge was usually sufficient to kill a U-Boat. With a range of roughly 250 yards, the Hedgehog allowed the attacking ship to launch before contact with the target was lost. The pattern was aimed by steering the entire ship.

File:Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar.jpg

File:USS Sarsfield (DDE-837) during ASW exercise 1950.jpg

Hedgehog was small enough that smaller escorts such as Destroyer Escorts and Corvettes could mount it. For smaller craft, such as US built PCs and SCs, a rocket powered variant, known as Mousetrap, was developed.

One advantage of the contact fuze was if an attack missed, the attacking escort could more quickly reacquire the target submarine. Roiling waters from depth charges gave many a U-Boat the chance to slip away. Hedgehog gave the U-Boats no such cover.

Developed to combat the scourge of the U-Boat in the Battle of the Atlantic, ironically, the most successful use of Hedgehog was by the US Navy in the Pacific. Melding splendid shiphandling, tactics, and signals intelligence, the USS England (DE-635) sank no less than six Japanese fleet subs in a twelve day period.

Variants of Hedgehog would remain in US Navy service well into the 1960s.

The Soviets took the idea of an ahead thrown contact weapon, and developed a series of RBU weapons using rocket projectiles. To this day, virtually every Russian warship has one or more RBU launchers.

File:RBU 6000.JPG

Squid and Limbo

The Royal Navy had made significant improvements in sonar and underwater fire control. Automatic range and bearing recording were new capabilities. And the addition of the “Q” attachment to the standard Type 147 ASDIC (or sonar) gave accurate depth information of the target.  This allowed an escort to accurately track in three dimensions over time the position and course of a target. And that was more than just information, it was the first half of any fire control solution.

The answer was a weapon we’ve previously described as impractical, an ahead thrown depth charge. Named Squid, the depth charge mortar had three 12” tubes mounted inline, though with a slight variance, mounted on a rotating cradle. Each tube fired a 300 pound depth charge. Range of squid was roughly 275 yards. The slight variance in alignment of the tubes meant the charges impacted the water simultaneously in a triangular pattern. These charges were time fuzed by a clockwork mechanism to explode simultaneously. Most importantly, the timing was set automatically and continuously set by the fire control system until the moment of firing, giving far more accurate depth setting than any conventional depth charge system.

File:Squid Mortar.jpg

Squid was a very large, heavy system.  And the preferred installation was Double Squid, with two three-barreled mortars mounted. This meant a significant portion of an escort had to be devoted to the mountings, consuming valuable centerline space that would otherwise be devoted to gun mounts or torpedo tubes. For the RN, facing primarily a submarine threat in the Atlantic, this was an acceptable trade off. The US Navy, faced with air, surface and subsurface threats in the Pacific, found Hedgehog sufficient. Any redesign of escorts for Atlantic duty would have slowed production too much.

Double Squid fired two diametrically opposed triangular patterns superimposed. The first pattern was timed to explode 25 feet below the target depth, with the second triangle 25 feet above. The resulting “sandwich” shockwave was deadly to submarines. Of 50 Squid attacks in World War II, 17 destroyed the target submarine, a kill ratio of .34, far and away the most lethal system in use during the war. Squid remained in use in the Royal Navy until 1977.

Limbo (or ASW Mortar Mk 10) was a postwar development of Squid, with better range, heavier charges, stabilization for pitch and roll, and most importantly, automatic loading. Generally only a single Limbo was mounted, as the automatic reloading allowed rapid re-attacks. Limbo remained in use on British and Commonwealth ships until the 1990s.

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Filed under history, navy