Tag Archives: World War II

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.

Hedgehog

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.

http://www.home-guard.org.uk/hg/pics/spigot.jpg

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.

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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.

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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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A Notional Company Landing Team

URR’s post below (and the article it links to) are worthy of their own examination and discussion. By what caught my eye was the thought of company sized (150-200 man) elements deploying independently of the regular Battalion Landing Team that forms the heart of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The concept of the Company Landing Team (CLT) has been knocked around for a couple years, and that got me to thinking, what type of ship should such a Team be deployed upon? Currently,  MEUs typically deploy spread across three amphibious ships, each with very different missions and capabilities. The LHA is the largest of these, and serves as the primary home to the Air Combat Element of the MEU, as well as the bulk of the manpower of the MEU. The LSD carries the majority of the MEUs vehicles as well as cargo for follow on resupply. The LPD serves to carry most of the tracked amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) as well as offering significant aviation capabilities, with a limited ability to conduct independent operations.

Of the three, the LPD would be best suited to fulfill the mission of carrying and deploying an independent CLT. The problem is, LPDs currently cost well over a billion dollars, and the Navy can’t afford to buy enough to fill its current requirement to support MEUs, let alone enough for extra, independent company teams.

As for the suggestion that the LCS might serve as a future home, that’s been an idea kicked around since supporters of the program had to start scrambling for ways to justify the flawed shipbuilding boondoggle.

You probably could fit a platoon sized element aboard, even if you had to use containerized berthing units. Maybe even a reinforced platoon. But fitting a reinforced rifle company onboard just won’t happen. You’d need to field at least three LCS to lift a single CLT.

The aviation facilities can carry two H-60 class helos, so lift would be available, if a little light. But aside from small RHIB craft, no landing craft could be used to move the company. In sh0rt, the entire company cannot be moved from ship to shore in a single lift, which is generally considered a key element of success for a landing.  Basically, the LCS might prove useful for some very small special forces detachments, but it is a non-starter as an amphib.

There are some good precedents for landing craft sized to carry a company. The first to come to mind is the LCI, or Landing Craft, Infantry.

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http://www.allwoodships.com/MilitaryShips/Amphibious/Image/2,LCI,page.jpg

Sized to carry 200 troops in addition to its crew, it would beach itself, and discharge its passengers via ramps at the bow. But for our notional CLT, it has some pretty severe drawbacks. First, it was designed almost wholly with the idea of the cross Channel invasion of Normandy in mind. It was one thing to carry its load for 24-48 hours. That could be stretched to 72-96 hours in a pinch.  But it was completely incapable of supporting that passenger load much beyond that. Perhaps a more important disadvantage to the LCI is that it had no capacity to carry vehicles.

The other purpose build World War II era ship that immediately springs to mind is a far better fit- The Landing Ship, Tank, or LST.  At around 327’ long, displacing about 3800 tons full load, the wartime LST had a crew of about 110, and normally had berthing for about 140 embarked troops. More importantly, it was purpose built to carry large numbers of tanks and other combat vehicles.

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In practice, LSTs routinely carried a larger number of troops. As for vehicles, the design was capable of carrying 1500 tons on ocean crossings, but was only designed to beach with a maximum of 500 tons of cargo. Of course, the Army quickly figured out that most beaches would actually allow beaching with loads of 1000 tons, and routinely overloaded the LSTs allocated to them.

The wartime LST was also a surprisingly inexpensive ship. Not cheap, or crude, but not gold-plated, either. And stunning numbers of them were built, over 1100 in just a couple years.

In fact, the only real shortcoming of the World War II LST was its deplorably low speed, with a maximum of around 11 knots, and a convoy speed of 7-8 knots. The low power of the installed diesel engines were part of the reason speed was so slow, but the flat-bottom design and the bluff bow section were the real reason the LST was a Large SLOW Target. Later variants with much greater shaft horsepower were somewhat faster, but still nothing to write home about, especially given the expense and complexity of their steam plants.

The Navy eventually took upon a radically redesigned LST, the Newport class, the did away with the traditional bow doors, and instead used an enormous ramp over the stem of the ship.

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This allowed a respectable speed of 20 knots, but the additional complexity and resultant cost, coupled with the ability of modern LCAC landing hovercraft to move vehicle cargo quickly meant the Navy eventually allowed the LST type to pass from service. The trend has been for decades, fewer, larger, more capable, more complex and more costly ships.

So let us design a hypothetical modern version of the WWII LST. Our requirement will be for a troop lift of 150-200 troops, and roughly 20 armored vehicles, generally of between Stryker sized and AAV-7 sized. We should plan on another ten to fifteen 5-ton FMTV type vehicles as well, to carry the support for the CLT. We should figure 7-14 days of offloadable consumables for the CLT once landed, including POL, ammo, rations and spares.  Only the most limited command and control facilities, and austere self defense suite are needed.

The guiding principle for the design of the ship is to cut construction costs. You’ll hear various people tell you this feature or that will reduce lifetime operating costs. Maybe, but operating costs on a platform you didn’t buy because it was too expensive is zero. Cutting up front costs (and keeping the ship extremely austere) is the way to reduce costs.

What other requirements must our notional ship have. Not, really would be nice, but must.

And let’s take a look at the Company Landing Team itself.

I’ve found myself looking at a Stryker Infantry Company as the core in my mind (though I’m certainly open to suggestions to the contrary). Any independent CLT would almost have to be a mounted force simply because it would need organic transport to get off the beach. Organic helicopter support isn’t an option, since that would vastly increase the complexity, manning and costs of any solution. Our notional CLT would also need the organic firepower a mounted force has lest it be defeated by even the most marginally equipped opposing force. Equipping with heavy mech infantry such as the Bradley would similarly increase the size and cost of the CLT, and would actually reduce the numbers of dismount infantry so valuable in so many low intensity conflict situations.

What supporting arms should our Company Team have? For organic fire support, is the 81mm mortar enough, or should we poach a battery of the Marines 120mm EFSS? Or simply used the Army 120mm mortar system? Would the Stryker Armored Gun System be sufficient direct fire? What about engineer support, logistical support, maintenance, air defense, intelligence, signals? How do we balance between having sufficient combat power, and keeping the size and cost of a force within a manageable scope?

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Has the sun set on the carrier task force?

There are basically two types of naval operations. Sea Control, or Power Projection.

Sea Control is just that, controlling the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs, or basically the shipping lanes) and denying the enemy the ability to interdict them. The prime example is the US and RN convoy operations in the North Atlantic fending off the U-Boat attempts to sever the logistical lifeline.

Power Projection is sailing your fleet to the enemy’s shores to impose your will upon him. Examples of this from World War II abound, with the Fast Carrier Task Forces appearing at will to pound Japanese installations throughout the Central Pacific, and eventually even the Home Islands. The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor is another example of a fleet being used for power projection.

Not surprisingly, while some ship types serve admirably in both roles, the differences in missions has tended to produce very different types.  A fleet with a large number of small missile armed combatants would likely be considered a Sea Control fleet, attempting to deny an enemy the ability to close its shores.

And of course, the modern exemplar of the Power Projection fleet is the US Navy Carrier Strike Group centered upon a massive nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

While our Navy has, since 1940, always had a strong Sea Control element, it has mostly been constituted as a Power Projection force. After all, if you can project enough power to defeat your enemy in his home port, that also pretty much guarantees control of the sea lanes.

And so it comes to pass, that Thomas Ricks pens a piece for the Washington Post calling for the Navy to shed its carriers.  As usual, Ricks is FW, NiD.

Bryan McGrath, professional naval type (as opposed to Ricks, professional windbag) does an admirable job of rebutting Ricks claims of the carrier’s supposed vulnerabilities.

To be sure, there are arguments against McGrath’s piece. The carrier is certainly not invulnerable. James R. Foot over at The Diplomat makes this point.

Holmes piece notes that finding the carrier is the fulcrum upon which the issue is weighed. But he misses a key point in the chain from detection to kill. Yes, China and any number of other nations have radars that can detect a carrier at distances far beyond the strike range of a carrier.

That overlooks one thing. The waters in question are among some of the most heavily transited in the world.  It’s one thing to find a blip on a radar screen. But the kill chain is comprised of more steps than “detect” and “kill.” It is detect, localize, classify, attack, kill, and assess.  Ricks and Holmes argument ignores the classify step. While a carrier may well be an enormous radar target, it is hardly alone in this. Virtually every large cargo ship or tanker has a similarly large radar return

And it isn’t as though the US Navy doesn’t have ample experience in avoiding being found. Little known outside naval circles, NORPAC 82 managed to scare the crap out of the Soviet Union. Basically, the US Navy snuck two complete carrier battlegroups up into the Northern Pacific undetected, roamed around at will while the Soviets desperately searched for them, simulated strikes against the Soviet bases, and when the carriers finally deigned to be found, simulated shooting the heck out of the Soviet bombers sent to “sink” the carriers.

For every vulnerability that a modern carrier has, the alternatives suffer even more. Our options beside the Carrier Strike Group are essentially to abandon aviation in maritime areas (though how that is supposed to negate Chinese aviation, I don’t know) or shift to land based airpower. But land bases are even more vulnerable to counterattack than any carrier. After all, the Chinese already know where every available airfield is.

Carriers have tremendous mobility. They give a commander the ability to strike at a place and time of his choosing.

Much as the cavalry, the carrier can move fast, strike hard, and withdraw, to strike again elsewhere. Indeed, this mobility and ability to keep the enemy reacting to our actions is part and parcel with our agility, our ability to seize the initiative and hold it. It is a far more likely method of getting inside any enemy OODA loop than land based airpower.

So the sun has not set on the fast task force centered around the nuclear aircraft carrier. That’s not to say Naval Aviation hasn’t made poor choices, or that the Carrier Strike Group is invulnerable. The CSG can’t park off an enemy coast indefinitely to impose its will. But as part of a well conceived campaign, it gives the US far more ability to project power than any alternative that excludes the aircraft carrier.

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Liberty Ships

One of Roamy’s very first posts here concerned the WWII emergency shipbuilding program known as Liberty Ships.

As it happens, I recently acquired a book on Liberty Ships.

The haste with which they were built, and the relatively new technology of welded hulls, lead to some issues with brittle metal, and hull failures, especially in cold water.

The massive Liberty Ship program was designed to quickly build as many general purpose (break bulk) cargo ships as possible. The Liberty Ships were simple, but not crude.

http://www.byteland.org/taltales/liberty_ship.jpg

The primary bottlenecks in shipbuilding were these:

First, the program could not be allowed to compete with existing merchant and warship building. To avoid this, entirely new yards and slipways were built (at government expense). In fact, many of the companies that operated these yards had no history of shipbuilding at all. Indeed, these neophyte firms often brought innovations to shipbuilding that left older firms aghast, but were eventually adopted by traditional firms, and are still in use today.

Second, the real bottleneck in production was propulsion. By 1940, the triple expansion steam engine was widely considered obsolete in American merchant marine service. But most production intense part of a steam turbine plant is the reduction gearing. There was a very real limit to how much gear cutting capacity America had or could be expected to achieve, and virtually all that was allocated to warship production. And since geared turbines were out, the old triple expansion steam engine was pressed into service for the Liberties. That actually meant that a school for teaching how to maintain the older technology had to be opened. The relative simplicity of the TESE meant that foundries that normally had no maritime connection could also be used to build engines.  The boilers were also relatively simple (though not crude) and could similarly be build without competing for the limited capacity of traditional boilermakers for warships.

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Now, you know that massive losses to merchant shipping to U-Boats in the Atlantic spurred the Liberty Ship program.

What surprised me was the relatively small numbers of Liberty Ships that were lost to U-Boat attacks.  I suspect it is because the worst losses of the Battle of the Atlantic took place before the Liberty Ship program really started placing large numbers of ships into service. That is, most were replacements for losses already incurred. There were appalling numbers of losses, but most were from mechanical casualties, and very often after 20 years of service.

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One thing I found rather spartan about the ships was that the navigation suite consisted primarily of a magnetic compass. Combined with a sextant and charts, that was about it. The lack of a gyrocompass was surprising. Virtually none of the Liberty Ships was fitted with radar of any sort during the war.

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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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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.

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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.

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Inchon, and Operational Maneuver From The Sea

The surprise North Korean invasion of South Korea steamrolled over lightly armed and poorly trained South Korean troops. Even the addition of US airpower and troop units did little to slow the onslaught. The defenders were soon pushed back to a small perimeter defending the port of Pusan. Pusan port was both their logistical lifeline, and presented the escape route should the perimeter fail.

But all was not lost. By the end of the summer of 1950, significant US troop units were available for commitment. Further, the North Korean army had stretched its lines of communication about as far as they could go.

Conventional military thinking called for the deployment of fresh forces into the Pusan perimeter, where eventually they could stage a counterattack, break out of the siege, and force the North Koreans back.

But a glance at the map would show that Korea is a peninsula. With the long shorelines on both coasts, North Korea had been forced to concentrate its ground forces at the Pusan perimeter, and its lines of communication were lightly defended.  These flanks were ripe for attack. And the commander of UN forces in Korea, General of the Army Douglas McArthur, was a past master of amphibious assaults, having used them brilliantly in World War II.  To our eyes some 60 year later, the choice to stage an amphibious assault seems easy.

Except…

The large scale demobilization of the services after World War II included a deliberate choice to mothball virtually all of the Navy’s amphibious warfare capability. The advent of nuclear weapons had convinced Navy planners (and Army planners as well) that any large scale amphibious landing would present a concentrated target tempting an enemy to use atomic weapons against it. A single atomic weapon would not only doom any landing, it would impose catastrophic losses of both shipping and manpower. And so the ability to land an expeditionary force against a defended coast had largely been foregone.

Further, while a brief glance at the map shows Korea as a peninsula, a detailed examination shows it to have some of the most inhospitable coasts, almost completely unsuitable for landings with the technology of the time.  Further, with the slashing of the US amphibious fleet, logistics over any assault beaches would be impossible. It’s one thing to land a force, it’s a far more difficult task to keep it supplied.

General MacArthur, after careful study, chose to conduct an amphibious assault, and chose the port of Inchon (which serves the South Korean capitol of Seoul) as the objective.  Located about halfway up the peninsula on the west coast, Inchon was lightly defended, and was a sufficiently deep envelopment that the North Korean army could not easily shift forces from Pusan to Inchon. But Inchon lies at the end of a long, notoriously treacherous channel with some of the worlds most complex tides. Further, rather than assaulting across open beaches, the troops would have to attack across a seawall onto open paved areas with little or no cover and concealment.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had grave misgivings about the risks involved. Finding, mobilizing, training and deploying sufficient amphibious shipping and landing craft would be an enormous challenge, and the risks involved. If the Inchon channel was mined, or should the landing force otherwise falter, the invading force might be destroyed in detail.  The failure of any landing attempt would almost certainly cause support for our actions in Korea to collapse.

But the prospect of cutting off the North Koreans and destroying their invading army was tantalizing, and despite their doubts, the Joint Chiefs allowed the commander on the scene to follow his own course.

And so, on this day, September 15, in 1950, elements of the 1st Marine Division, with troops of the 7th Infantry Division in follow on waves, were landed by the US Navy at Inchon, in what is widely hailed as a strategic masterstroke, and one of the most decisive victories ever.

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The landings came as a strategic and tactical surprise to the North Koreans. With their lines of communication threatened, coupled with a breakout by UN forces in the Pusan perimeter, the North Korean army was soon fleeing South Korea in disarray. Had the landing forces at Inchon moved faster to retake Seoul, the North Koreans might have been trapped and destroyed. As it was, they barely managed to retreat not only from South Korea, but northward through their own country to the line of the Yalu River, where soon “volunteers” from the People’s Liberation Army of China would come to their rescue, and dashing hopes for any rapid victory and a lasting peace.

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First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, USMC, leads the 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines over the seawall on the northern side of Red Beach, as the second assault wave lands, 15 September 1950, during the Inchon invasion. Wooden scaling ladders are in use to facilitate disembarkation from the LCVP that brought these men to the shore. Lt. Lopez was killed in action within a few minutes, while assaulting a North Korean bunker. Note M-1 Carbine carried by Lt. Lopez, M-1 Rifles of other Marines and details of the Marines’ field gear. Photo number NH 96876. Image Courtesy of the Naval Historical Center.

Mastery of the seas and the ability to land forces upon hostile shores gives a ground commander a freedom of maneuver that allows him to choose the time and place of his assault, and usually provides him the opportunity to attack an undefended or lightly held position. The use of such maneuver to unhinge an enemy is a key to the operational art, whether it be the “Hail Mary” sweep to the west during Operation Desert Storm or the amphibious envelopment at Inchon in 1950.  Since that time, the US has been careful to maintain both the shipping and the expertise to allow it to conduct amphibious assaults worldwide.

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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.

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Victory

On this day in 1945, representatives of the Japanese empire boarded the USS Missouri, and in a brief ceremony, signed the articles of surrender that brought to a close World War II.

http://www.clevelandseniors.com/images/events/2010/vj-day/japan-surrender-missouri.jpg

http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/resources/category/1/7/7/1/images/BE042686.jpg

http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/resources/category/1/6/3/3/images/BE047790.jpg

Roughly 16 million Americans would serve in uniform during the war, about 10% of the population.  Four hundred thousand of them would die. A million would be wounded.

On the Axis side, Germany and Japan were devastated, and Italy in scarcely better condition.

Of the Allied powers, France and the British Empire were exhausted. Russia, while triumphant, had suffered casualties that boggle the mind to this day.

Only the United States ended the war with its population and infrastructure intact.

The war had ushered in ever greater horrors, from concentration camps, aerial bombing campaigns and of course, the atom bomb.

And if the war failed to bring universal peace to our planet, it did show a glimpse of what warfare could be in the future. That wars since then have been, by comparison, modest affairs, is , if not a good thing, better than the alternative.

 

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The .45

Here’s a nice piece on my favorite piece.

Original 1911 pistol. Kyle mizokami photo

The 1911 is one of the most notorious handguns in history and easily the most famous in America, having seen action in every U.S. conflict since World War I. One of the most successful product designs ever, the 1911 has achieved something rare in the world of machines: immortality. Over a hundred years old, it remains largely unchanged.

What Apple is to consumer electronics, John Browning was to late 19th and early 20th century firearms. The 1911 is his most famous design. The typical 1911 is 8.25 inches from tip to tail and weighs 2.49 pounds empty — about as much as a trade paperback book. The 1911 is made of steel, steel and more steel, and takes a magazine that holds seven bullets.

The 1911 has seen service in World War I, Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic (twice), Lebanon, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iran, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, the Iraq War and Afghanistan. It has chased bad men from Pancho Villa to Osama Bin Laden.

Minor adjustments have been added here and there, but the general appearance and function of the gun has largely been left unchanged. The 1911 is the personification — among weapons, anyway — of what architect Louis Sullivan termed “form follow[ing] function.” The 1911 was not designed to be beautiful; it was designed to be useful. Ergonomically everything is where it should be for maximum efficiency.

I’m not really a purist, though. I’m happy with virtually any decent 1911 style pistol. In fact, my favorite carry piece from long ago was a Star PD in .45.

And I understand the appeal of some newer designs. I personally dislike the Baretta M9/Model 92. I know LT Rusty likes his. I guess it just fits nicely in his purse.

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Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy

The Liberation Trilogy

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An Army at Dawn

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The Day of Battle

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The Guns at Last Light

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The Archetype of an epic tale is the Three Act play, and to this day, the format remains in constant use.

But it is rare for the events of history to so neatly conform to this methodology. But the history of the US Army in World War II follows this arc quite closely.

Act I, the campaign in Africa introduces our protagonist, a young brash Army, versus its antagonist, a battle hardened Wehrmacht that seems nearly invincible. The battle is joined, and the protagonist suffers defeats and setbacks, only to achieve a victory, but not the final victory, at the end of the first act.

Act II brings our Army to the Italian campaign. As with all second acts, it starts with optimism, but also gathering clouds.  Mighty struggles will ensue, and dark times ahead for our hero.

Act III, the Invasion and Campaign in Western Europe will eventually lead to the great finale showdown, the epic battle- in this case, the Battle of the Bulge- and to the final victory, with our hero poised to savor the fruits of victory, and imagine new horizons.

It is a tale that begs for a talented writer to put it to paper.

Fourteen years ago, Rick Atkinson set out to tell the story of the US Army’s World War II European campaigns. And not surprisingly, he followed the arc that history had providentially set out for him, dedicating a book to each of the three major campaigns of the Army in Europe.*

The Liberation Trilogy is a narrative, not a textbook.  It tells a tale, not a history. Serious historians may well enjoy reading it, but would focus on other historical records. But for the lay reader, or the professional soldier, the story is well told, accessible, and often moving.

The story of the Army’s campaigns is also very much a story of coalition warfare, especially with the British, but to a fair extent also the French. The Army’s operations cannot be understood without a fair grasp of the overall Allied campaign, and Atkinson devotes a fair amount of attention to this higher point of view. But Atkinson also does a fine job of bringing the challenges and heartache of the average soldier to the reader, through extensive use of soldiers letters and oral histories.  Throughout the trilogy, we hear Privates and Captains tell the despair, fatigue, exhilaration, and frustration of men at war.

From a personality standpoint, every story of the campaigns must tell of the complex, often tense, sometimes acrimonious relationships between Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley, and of course, Patton. Eisenhower was also intensely aware of the political factors at play at his level of command. The US war aim was to secure peace through the defeat of Germany. And Roosevelt was largely content to leave Eisenhower under the day to day supervision of George Marshall. The British war aim, as seen by Churchill, was to secure the future of the Empire through the defeat of Germany, and he had no reservations about bypassing the Combined Chiefs and pleading his case for a course of action directly to Ike, or whispering in Monty’s ear that he should pursue a certain course.

But for all the challenges of coalition warfare and the oft differing aims and strategies of the Allies, they were remarkably successful in achieving compromise courses of action that were plausible, and if not the most perfectly possible plans, ultimately effective. The Germans, with the strength of unity of command, found themselves time and again hamstrung by schemes of maneuver that were patently impossible, and yet had to be tried, if only because The Fuhrer had so deemed.

While Atkinson also pays more attention to the 6th Army Group operations in the south than most histories, he still provides only the barest bones. Of course, that’s largely because Eisenhower too paid only the barest attention to operations in the south. The main effort was in the north. The only question for the Allies to suss out was would it be Monty’s 21st Army Group, or Bradley’s 12 Army Group?

Atkinson does a serviceable job of detailing the timelines of major operations, and does so with a minimum of jargon. The reader new to military history should have little trouble understanding the books.

Generously footnoted, the bibliography suggests quite a number of further books for the reader.

A very solid, very readable series, and while I’m frustrated it took 14 years for Rick to complete the series, it was worth the wait. Now if he’ll only do a similar series on the Army in the Pacific.

*Granted, North Africa isn’t Europe, but virtually all the fighting was done by either the Americans, the Europeans, or their colonial troops, and was so close to the European continent that it was for all practical matters, a European campaign.

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Henry Holt publishers provided an advanced review copy of The Guns At Last Light. I had previously bought my own copies of An Army at Dawn, and The Day of Battle.

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Normandy

I just happened to come across a Flickr account that has hundreds, thousands of pictures from the campaign in Normandy. There are very few pictures in existence of the actual assault itself, but this is a huge collection of pictures from the subsequent campaign.

You can find the album here.

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New Britain

The Army/Marine campaign in World War II on New Britain featured some of the most miserable conditions faced by soldiers and Marines in the entire Pacific War.

Worse, the course of events have lead many to argue that the entire operation was unneeded.

An Army cavalry regiment (dismounted, fighting as infantry) landed at Arawe as a diversion/deception measure, and soon after, two Marine regiments landed at Cape Gloucester.

If you have an hour to kill…

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Dambusters!

70 years ago, the RAF staged its attack against dams in western Germany using Barns Wallis’ ingenious rolling/skipping bomb. The attacks were successful, but at a high price.

To this day, 617 Squadron remains the most famous squadron in RAF service.

fo0518_dambusters_c_rj2000

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China sends a message

When I saw this last night:

China’s top newspaper on Wednesday published a call for a review of Japan’s sovereignty over the island of Okinawa — home to major US bases — with the Asian powers already embroiled in a territorial row.

The lengthy article in the People’s Daily, China’s most-circulated newspaper and the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist party, argued that the country may have rights to the Ryukyu chain, which includes Okinawa.

The island is home to major US air force and marine bases as well as 1.3 million people, who are considered more closely related to Japan in ethnic and linguistic terms than to China.

The authors of the article, two scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, considered China’s top state-run think-tank, said the Ryukyus were a “vassal state” of China before Japan annexed the islands in the late 1800s.

“Unresolved problems relating to the Ryukyu Islands have reached the time for reconsideration,” wrote Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang, citing post-World War II declarations that required Japan to return Chinese territory.

I knew in my bones I’d see it at CDR Salamander’s place this morning.

China in the last 5 or so years has become increasingly expansionistic. As their military and economic power has risen, so to has a significant percentage of both the leadership and the population become more vocal about reclaiming territories they deem their own.

Ten years ago, the supposition was China primarily posed an expansionistic threat to Taiwan. Today, the emphasis has shifted away from Taiwan. That doesn’t reflect a change in mainland China’s goal for control of Taiwan, but rather a belief by many that sooner or later, Taiwan will fall effectively, if not de jure, under Chinese rule.

What is interesting in this case is that most of the previous recent disputes about maritime properties have related to areas with potential for resource exploitation such as oil, gas, or fishing rights. While there is certainly economic potential in the Ryukyus,  any Chinese control of Okinawa would best be seen as an outpost of a defensive chain, much as the Japanese used several chains of islands during World War II. For that matter, much as we use it as a forward outpost today.

This increasingly aggressive foreign policy has sparked something of an arms race along the Rim of the Pacific. South Korea, already committed to strong self defense against its nutty neighbors to the north has in the past few years put great effort into expanding its navy. Today is it fielding world class blue water destroyers and helicopter carriers. The North Koreans have virtually no navy, and while this buildup can be seen as a balance against Japan, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force has long had a significant destroyer force. That force never lead to South Korea building up its navy before. Once can only conclude it is in response to the expansion of the Chinese fleet.

China is also feeling its oats along the China-India border.

One wonders what major shift in US foreign policy may have occurred in the past five years that might have encouraged China to embrace an increasingly confrontational foreign policy.  Of course, the Chinese bear ultimate responsibility for their actions, but failure of the US to provide clear leadership and an unambiguous policy in the region isn’t helping matters.

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Life Lessons

Unlike my esteemed co-author URR, I’m not a basketball fan. Virtually everything about the game, I learned from watching One Tree Hill.

But that doesn’t mean I’m so culturally ignorant as to not know the names of the Great Ones. And high in that pantheon is Kareem Abdul Jabar.

While I have admired him as a player for nigh on 40 years, I’ve also appreciated his other talents. Of course he was great in Airplane! as co-pilot Roger Murdock.

I was also very impressed with his book Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes about one of several African American tank battalions that served overseas in World War II.

Comes now, a wee bit of life advice from Mr. Jabar- what 66 year old Kareem would tell 30 year old Kareem. I wouldn’t subscribe to all 20 of his bullet points, but I would to the majority, and that’s not a bad average.

7. Be patient. Impatience is the official language of youth. When you’re young, you want to rush to the next thing before you even know where you are. I always think of the joke in Colors that the wiser and older cop (Robert Duvall) tells his impatient rookie partner (Sean Penn). I’m paraphrasing, but it goes something like: “There’s two bulls standing on top of a mountain. The younger one says to the older one: ‘Hey pop, let’s say we run down there and screw one of them cows.’ The older one says: ‘No son. Let’s walk down and screw ‘em all.’” Now, to counter the profane with the profound, one of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see.” I think the key to seeing the target no one else can see is in being patient, waiting for it to appear so you can do the right thing, not just the expedient thing. Learning to wait is one of my greatest accomplishments as I’ve gotten older.

Read more: Life Lessons with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Kareem on What He Wished He’d Known – Esquire

It’s a quick, easy read, but worth it. Especially for you youngsters lurking out there.

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Monday Morning Linkage

So, a little birdie passed along this quiz of great commanders of history. I did pretty  well on the Civil War and World War II stuff (and more recent stuff, of course) but wow, do I suck at ancient history.

No, I’m not telling you my score.

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Most armies, if you desert in wartime, you get lined up against a wall and shot. Ours? Not so much. This dirtbag faces a max of five years, and likely will get less than that.

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The Army is starting to look at future helicopter programs. I have to say, using a two-ship technology demonstrator to neck down to one production program of record isn’t exactly giving me a warm fuzzy. Since that was the methodology that brought us the F-35 JSF program.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with using competing technology demonstrators. The problem came when the program treated a technology demonstrator as a prototype for an actual combat aircraft. Neither JSF demonstrator was fundamentally incapable of being developed. Both teams should have been invited to compete for the actual JSF contract. But necking down at the technology demonstrator phase, intended to spare the expense of developing two fighters, left the government with only one design, in effect, a monopoly. And we’ve seen how well that worked out.

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US Navy bound and determined to prove that you don’t need ships to have a navy.

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NTP

th

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TAH has a bunch of stuff on phony soldiers. What I find even more depressing is when a former soldier, one with a perfectly respectable career, feels the need to puff up his credentials. Keith Keeton has a pretty reasonable collection of the usual awards and accomplishments.

So why is he lying his ass off?

I think the bravest thing I ever did in the Army was to take the last donut when the 1SG was reaching for it.

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ANZAC Day

The small armies of Australia and New Zealand, during World War I sent  troops to serve with the British Army. Formed into the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, they quickly became known as ANZACs. Soon their wartime prowess earned them the reputation as the shock troops of the British Empire.

In World War II, both nations again provided key infusions of manpower into the imperial forces, and struggled to fight campaigns alongside the United States in the Pacific to achieve their own strategic goals.

And in virtually every major US campaign since World War II, troops from the antipodean nations have served alongside our soldiers and Marines.

Both Australia, and particularly New Zealand are small countries, with small armies. But both are highly respected for their professionalism, gallantry, and heritage. And so it is appropriate that we take a moment to remember the shared sacrifices of our allied neighbors from the other hemisphere as they celebrate ANAZC Day.

Head over to CDR Salamander’s for some excellent video of these warriors in action throughout the years.

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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

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Barrage Rockets

Multiple Launch Rocket Systems are pretty handy. Our current MLRS and HIMARS have evolved from area suppression weapons into long range precision weapons with the Guided MLR round, and the ATACM long range guided missile. But for most of their history, rockets have been relatively short ranged, area fire weapons. They offer a massive barrage, but at the expense of long reloading times, and relatively poor accuracy.

During World War II, the Army used large numbers of 4.5” barrage rockets. At the very tail end of the war, the spin stabilized rocket was introduced to improve on the poor accuracy of the earlier fin stabilized rockets. The M16 rocket was fired from the T-66 launcher.

Shortly after the end of the Korean War, the US pretty much got out of the barrage rocket business. But the Soviet Union, who’d had great success with theirs in World War II (and were always big fans of artillery), used the 122mm Grad rocket launcher, primarily as a counter-battery weapon, but also for suppressive fires. The BM-21 is much longer than contemporary US rockets, giving it much greater range.  Simple, cheap, and easy to use, the BM-21 Grad is mostly gone from Russian service, but is still used by a lot of former client states.

Since the 122mm rocket is still so popular, some folks are even now making launchers for it. And this might be the ultimate evolution of that concept.

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Mine Warfare- Part II

The first post focused on surface laid, contact fused naval mines.

If only it were that simple. Beginning in the interwar period between World War I and World War II, both the method of delivery, and fusing options for naval mines underwent a revolution that vastly complicated the defense against naval mines.

Let’s take a quick look at delivery options first.  Of course, there’s the traditional surface laid mine, delivered over the stern of a minelayer. Variations include other warships with rails installed, or the Mine Planters of the Army, or using almost any other vessel available to drop a couple over the side.

But stealth in the delivery of mines can be a powerful tool.  Submarines were an attractive option for delivering mines in enemy waters. Both specialized minelaying subs, and specialized mines to be launched from conventional submarine torpedo tubes were developed. While the specialized submarine minelayer has passed into history, the submarine launched mine is still very much with us.

The other major method of mine delivery, and eventually the all time champ in terms of volume, was the airplane.  Airplanes couldn’t carry very many mines compared to a ship, of course, but you could buy a lot more planes than ships for a given amount of money. And over the course of the time it would take a ship to load mines, steam to the target, drop the mines, and return,  planes could make quite a few sorties. Medium and heavy bombers were quite well suited for dropping mines.

The problem with moored contact mines was that a ship had to, well, make contact.  That limited the depths at which they could be laid, increased the weight of the mine (as the anchor for the mine was quite heavy), and reduced the likelihood of any one mine damaging a ship. If only there was some way to allow mines to trigger without direct contact.

As it turns out, weaponeers eventually designed several mines that responded to the influence of passing vessels to detonate.  These influence mines used three primary methods.

Since the mine didn’t have to have contact to detonate, it need not be moored, and instead could be allowed to sink to the bottom of shallow waters.  This also allowed for an under the keel gas bubble jet attack, which is devastating to almost any ship.  Even if the target ship wasn’t directly overhead, shock, blast and whipping action from a nearby explosion could cause serious damage.

First, the magnetic mine. Steel hulled ships very slightly alter the magnetic field of the waters they transit. Just as a magnet swings a compass needle, this flux in the local magnetic field could be used to trigger a mine.

The second major type of influence mine was the passive acoustic mine. Hydrophones on the mine would listen for the sound of an approaching ship’s propellers. When the sound reached a threshold, the mine would detonate.

The third type was the hydrostatic, or water pressure displacement fused mine. The local change in water pressure caused by a ship’s hull moving through the water was used as the triggering method.

Bottom laid influence mines were particularly well suited for delivery by bombers, and during the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe made strenuous efforts to frequently mine the Thames River estuary, and other major shipping ports of England.  The British were first somewhat flummoxed by the new mines, but after a missed drop left one ashore, they quickly devised sweeping countermeasures against them.

 

German World War II magnetic mine that landed ...

German World War II magnetic mine that landed on the ground instead of the water. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

German magnetic mine accidentally dropped ashore in England.

File:Dwi wellington front.jpg

British Vickers Wellington bomber modified with magnetic mine exploder.

As always in warfare, advances in offence are met by advances in defense. And vice versa. As means of sweeping each type of influence mine evolved, so did means of making mines harder to sweep. Fuse functions were modified with “counters” so that, say, the first magnetic field to pass through the trigger mechanism would be ignored. Or maybe the first dozen. Only after a certain number of magnetic fields had influenced the trigger would the mine actually detonate. That meant that suspected minefields would have to be swept multiple times, and even then, there was no real way to assure that all mines had been swept.

Simply telling a mine to wait for a period of time, say 30 days, to activate would complicate sweeping.

Combining multiple influence fuses would also make mines less susceptible to countermeasures.

The British extensively mined waters in the North Sea and the Bay of Biscay to frustrate German shipping and U-boats.

The most effective mining campaign of the war was probably Operation Starvation, the use of B-29s to mine crucial Japanese shipping routes near the end of the war.  The Army Air Force was loathe to use its B-29s for anything other than strategic bombing of land targets, but did dedicate one bomb group to the mission.  For the loss of 15 bombers over the course of 6 months, and dropping only 12,000 mines, the campaign sank or damaged 670 vessels totaling about one and a quarter million tons of shipping. More importantly, it virtually paralyzed the already decimated Japanese merchant service.

The US would not again use aerial delivered mines until 1967, when A-6A Intruders of VA-35 mined the Red River in Vietnam, and more famously, in 1972, Navy and Marine jets from various squadrons laid the first of what eventually totaled over 11,000 mines in Haiphong and other Vietnamese ports. *

The initial mines were purpose built aerial delivered mines. But magazine space on ships is very limited, and aerial mines are bulky, complex weapons. Eventually, the Navy switched to the Destructor family of modular mine systems.

The Mk82 and Mk84 bombs were modular, in that they could use a variety of tail fin assemblies, and nose and tail fuse assemblies. The bright idea was suggested that using the Mk15 Snakeye high drag tail kit and a specialized fuse would allow any Mk82 or Mk84 to be used as an aerial delivered naval mine. Accordingly, the Mk36 Destructor series mines were invented.  No modification to the delivery aircraft were needed, and the ballistics were identical to regular Snakeye bombs, so little extra training was needed. And since the bombs were already the mainstay of the ships magazines, and fuses took up little space, a plentiful supply could be kept on hand.

After the Destructor series of fuses were compromised by their use in North Vietnam, the Quickstrike series was fielded. Externally almost indistinguishable from the Destructor series, they have served for the last 30 years or so.  But the general purpose bomb casing is roughly half steel and half explosive by weight. Fragmentation is great for a bomb, but fairly useless for a mine. Accordingly, the current US air delivered mine, the Mk65 Quickstrike, uses the fuse assemblies, but has a traditional bulky mine body maximizing the explosive content.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/images/mk65.jpg

Quickstrike family of mines.

Submarines are still quite capable of delivering mines as well. Most sub delivered mines are 21” in diameter, to be place by ejecting them from a sub’s torpedo tubes. They tend to be roughly half the length of a torpedo, so for every torpedo offloaded, a sub can carry two mines.

Other sub delivered mines include the Mk67 SLMM or Submarine Launched Mobile Mine. A converted Mk37 torpedo, it is launched like a normal torpedo, navigates from the launch point to its designated target area, then sinks to the bottom, to lie in wait. This standoff allows a sub to mine waters such as river estuaries that the sub might ordinarily be able to attack.

*As part of the Paris Accords that ended US involvement in Vietnam, we also went in and swept all those mines.

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Blatantly stolen from CDR Salamander

Shave like a man!

Yeah, I’ve got a can…

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Damn the torpedoes!

I’ve written about coast artillery a few times.

Here.

Here.
Here.

And here.

There’s a few other places I’ve mentioned seacoast defenses.

But one thing I’ve never really talked about was the other half of the seacoast defense program.

When Admiral David Farragut, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, gave his iconic order, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” he was referring to naval mines laid in the harbor. The self propelled torpedo of today would not be invented for another decade, and not really practical for another 30 years.

Naval mines are to this day an effective weapon against warships. It should be noted, when Farragut gave his order, one of his ships had already struck a mine and was sinking.

When we think of naval mines, we have a vision of the classic moored contact mine, with horns that, when a passing ship strikes them, causes the mine to detonate.

http://www.warhistory1944.co.uk/images/atlantic_wall_6_lg.jpg

And to be sure, mines of this sort are still used. In fact, the threat of these floating mines in the Straits of Hormuz is a key Iranian tool in manipulating public opinion world wide.

Such moored contact mines can be used either offensively, to blockade an enemy in his ports or to hinder his use of shipping lanes for commerce or military purposes, or they can be used defensively, to deny the enemy entry into friendly waters. Britain, during World War II, liberally mined the waters north of the English Channel to deny access to German U-boats and surface raiders.

But while the moored contact mine could be used to deny certain open waters to the enemy, it was a poor choice of weapon for defending harbors and ports. After all, the reason to defend those harbors and ports is to allow you to conduct trade and naval operations. And if your own channels are mined, your own ships can’t move.

When we think of moored minefields, we tend to think of minelayers dropping them over the stern to form a minefield. And in the Navy, that’s just how it was done. Several purpose built minelayers, and large numbers of converted destroyers served as minelayers in both World Wars.

But by law, the defense of harbors and the seacoast was the responsibility of the US Army.  I’ll leave it to Craig to discuss the history of coastal defenses for the first century of our nation. In 1885, the Board of Fortifications, also known as the Endicott board, recommended a wholesale reorganization of the coastal defenses, and eventually lead to the division of Army artillery into the Field Artillery and the Coastal Artillery.

During the Endicott period, the Army made a massive investment in seacoast fortifications on both coasts.  Virtually every economically significant harbor had a series of gun batteries constructed. But seacoast artillery alone was not the entire solution to harbor defense. During periods of limited visibility, artillery would have a tough time simply engaging any enemy forces. Searchlights could pierce darkness, but fog or stormy weather could blind the defenders. Further, the way to sink a ship isn’t by poking holes in the top, but rather in the bottom. Cannon fire can eventually sink most ships, but underwater weapons are, pound for pound, far more efficient.

Accordingly, the Army began plans to lay minefields to guard harbors. But unlike the naval mines so familiar to those of us who have seen countless WWII submarine movies, these were controlled minefields.

Army mines being serviced

Rather than being detonated merely by contact, Army minefields were connected to the shore via a series of electrical cables. Main cables from shore went to a junction box, with each junction box typically supporting 19 mines.  DC current was used to monitor and test the mines, as well as signal to the shore that contact had been made. AC current would then be used to detonate the mine.

One of the advantages of a controlled minefield was that a shipping channel could be completely mined, and yet still usable for friendly shipping.

Establishing an effective controlled minefield was actually a fairly large investment in infrastructure. First, while theoretically a minefield could be left in place at all times, prudence would dictate that the field actually only be planted when hostilities are imminent. After all, mistakes can happen. So storage and maintenance facilities ashore would be needed for the mines. Typically, a mine storage shed would hold the mine itself. A separate magazine would be built to hold the explosives for the mine. In an era when dynamite or guncotton (both quite sensitive materials) were the primary explosives, placing this magazine well away from other facilities was a good idea.

Provision also had to be made for emplacing the mines. Wharf space for the mine planting ships had to be built. Then tramway tracks had to be laid to facilitate movement of the  mines from storage to the wharf. Storage for miles and miles of electrical cable was needed as well. Since the cable needed to be tested for continuity in a salt water environment, large salt water vats also had to be provided.

Since the mines were electrically controlled, power generation facilities also had to be provided (remember, this was the age where electrification was far from universal in the nation).

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e6/Strong-Mines-S.jpg

Mine Casemate for controlled minefield

Then there was the fire control aspect of the mines.  Generally, Army controlled minefields could be fired one of three ways:

  1. Command
  2. Contact
  3. Delayed Contact

Command detonation was just that. The firing center (known as the mine casemate) would send the signal to detonate a particular mine.  This casemate was generally a reinforced concrete structure with switchboards for controlling the various strings of mines, telephones to fire control observation stations (sometimes called the “long base), and plotting tables to track any enemy force, and decide the proper time to detonate any mines.

Fire control for the mines was fairly sophisticated. At least two observation stations would use a pelorus to determine the bearing from their known point to the target vessel. The intersection of these lines of bearing would provide a location. Multiple sightings over even a fairly brief period of time would provide course and speed information as well. With that information, accurate plotting and a stopwatch, the commander in the casemate could specify which mines should be detonated, and when, with a fair degree of accuracy and likelihood of destroying or damaging the enemy target. For night firing, searchlights were used to track and illuminate targets.

In periods of fog or other limited visibility, when the target would likely be obscured, the minefield could be set to fire on contact, much like a traditional minefield. This was also useful if there were multiple targets, and the plotting team was overwhelmed trying to establish accurate tracks on all targets.

The final method, delayed contact, was in many ways the preferred method of firing. The mine itself served as a sensor. It’s DC power circuit would tell the casemate when contact had been made. The commander could then order detonation after a few seconds delay. One advantage of the short delay was the likelihood of the blast occurring closer to the midships section of the target, rather than the bows. The largest spaces on a warship are its firerooms and enginerooms, and thus most vulnerable to flooding. And they’re located amidships.

This delayed command method of firing also allowed the mine commander discrimination in his targets. If a small scouting vessel entered the field, the commander might forego attacking it, saving that mine for a later ship in the main body. That would conceal the minefield and expose a more valuable enemy asset to attack later.

Below is a sketch of a minefield protecting the Columbia River in Washington State.

Col-R-mines

Right click to embiggenfy.

Via the excellent Coast Defense Studies Group

Emplacing all the mines was a considerable task. Simply rolling mines off the back of a vessel wasn’t sufficient. Each mine had to be placed very specifically in it’s intended spot in the field. In fact, the vessels used by the Army were known as Mine Planters, rather than Minelayers. Each Mine Planter, while a coastal vessel, was still a fairly substantial size. It needed to be big enough to carry several mines, and carry the booms to transfer them over the side (and to recover them as well for maintenance, or when tensions were low enough leaving the field planted was no longer called for).

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4e/MGRandolph.jpg/745px-MGRandolph.jpg

US Army Mine Planter via Wikipedia

But several other vessels were also required. Smaller ships laid the distribution boxes, while others handled the cables that connected the mines to the shore control station. Ideally, each defended port or harbor would have its own flotilla of mine planting vessels, but in practice, only a few did, and those vessels had to move from harbor to harbor to service the fields. Other stations used whatever civilian vessels were available if mine planters were not available.

Originally, Army mine planters were crewed by civilians, but the War Department felt such duties should be performed by military personnel. And so the Army Mine Planter Service came into being.  Rather than having Army officers and gentlemen engage in the nasty business of running boats, the same act of 1918 that established the Army Mine Planter Service under the Coast Artillery Corps also established the grade of Warrant Officer. These would serve as masters, mates and engineers of the vessels.  From there, the warrant officer would expand to other fields, especially those that had particular technical requirements.

It was no great secret that our harbors were defended by minefields. Any enemy force that did attempt to attack would be certain to attempt minesweeping operations. From the first, most minefields were co-located with major seacoast gun batteries. Additional smaller gun batteries, such as the 90mm Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat batteries (using a variant of the 90mm anti aircraft gun) had a primary mission of defeating any minesweeping ships.

Though the AMPS would not be officially disbanded until 1950, by the end of World War II, it was plain that legacy coastal defenses in the US were obsolete, and they were removed. Today, several old forts are parks or otherwise historical attractions. Of the mine casemates and storage sheds and other installations, the explorer has to look pretty hard to find any.

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The Battle of the Bulge

In Western Europe, the Allied Forces had routed the Nazis in France, destroying two armies and opening the way to the German frontier. British and US troops were slowed more by lack of supplies than German resistance. After the breakout in Normandy, the Army dashed across France and the Low Countries, only wheezing to a stop at the German border.  Just as soon as the logistical tail could catch up, the columns of tanks, infantry and artillery would finish off the the feldgrau Wehrmacht. The Nazis were on the brink of collapse. Everyone knew it. It was only a matter of months, weeks, days…

But on the morning of December  16, 1944, a bitterly cold, foggy day saw a truly massive German counterattack against the weakest point of the Allied lines. The Ardennes forest was held by a tissue thin layer of troops. Green units that hadn’t heard a shot in anger, and units bled white in other battles were more  a string of outposts than any sort of defense. 

The Germans had amassed an incredible three field armies for the counteroffensive. Extraordinary security measures had kept Allied intelligence in the dark. The Allies knew reserves were being built, but failed to grasp the scale and the likely avenue of attack. Instead, the Allies though only strong local counterattacks were likely, and those were expected in the north.

The German aim was to split the Allied front,  cross the Meuse river, and roll onto the vital port of Antwerp, the key logistical hub of the Allies.  Having split the British and the Americans, the Germans intended to defeat them in detail, buying time in the West to focus on the Russians in the East.

The Ardennes had several times before been the favored German route of attack to the west.  Armchair strategists have long criticized American generals for the weak defense of this sector. But the enormous frontage covered across Europe, and the relatively small numbers of troops available meant the US and British couldn’t be strong everywhere. The decision to leave a light screen across the Ardennes forest was a risk, but it was a calculated one.

The appalling weather of December 16 meant a key component of Allied strength would be absent. Low clouds, fog and snow meant Allied airpower was grounded. Indeed, a forecast of bad weather was a key factor in the German timing of the attack.

When the Germans slammed into the American lines, some units were simply overrun. Others melted away in panic, and others fought doggedly if ultimately futilely.  Casualties and confusion were the order of the day. It took Allied leadership time to first grasp the scale of the assault, and then to tamp down incipient panic.  If the Army’s nose was badly bloodied, there had been no knockout punch.

Hitler, who had crafted the plan almost singlehandedly, had visions of victorious troops slicing their way through the lines to victory in the West. But like most Hitlerean plans, the Ardennes offensive had grave flaws. The US Army in the Ardennes in 1944, thin as it was, was far more agile and mobile than the French forces the Germans had steamrolled in 1940. And even without airpower, those forces had far more firepower than the French of 1940. Further, for the most part, the US forces were a well trained, well blooded force, stubborn and with an esprit de corps the French could only dream of.  And terrain too played its part. The very thing that made the Ardennes an attractive avenue of attack also made it a poor one. The Ardennes was lightly held because it was just a forest, with little infrastructure or industry, and an extremely poor road network. The Germans had three armies for the assault, but in reality, only fragments of each could be fed into battle at any one time. Without holding the hubs of the few road networks in the region, such as at Bastogne, the bulk of the German forces would spend the offensive sitting idly, useless as if they’d never been gathered.

Recognizing this, the Allies moved heaven and earth to hold key towns and roads. The Battle of Bastogne, memorialized in books and movies, has come to symbolize the Battle of the Bulge. The intersection of five main roads made Bastogne, an otherwise unremarkable town, the center of the world’s attention in December 1944. Troops from the 101st Airborne, and a hodgepodge of other divisions, cut off, surrounded, and under constant attack by overwhelming German forces seemed ripe for the picking. Urged by the German commander to surrender his hopeless position, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, the senior American in the town, gave the most memorable reply –“Nuts!”

Eventually, Patton’s Third Army, lead by future Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams and his 37th Armor, would relieve the siege of Bastogne. And eventually, the Americans would halt the German penetration, and attack to regain the initiative.  Countless German soldiers who could have been used to defend the Western Wall or the far bank of the Rhine, were instead caught in the open in Belgium. German losses mounted, and mounted again. The war wouldn’t be over in weeks or days, but the loss of so many troops did mean that the Germans would collapse in months.

The Battle of the Bulge remains to this day the largest battle in the history of the United States Army. Countless stories of valor and struggle came from it. Legends and traditions that inspire to this day arose from the battle.  Sleepy villages across bucolic regions of the Benelux today were, 68 years ago, the scene of some of the most epic struggles in the history of warfare.

The Army has a nice website with more information and pictures.

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