Posts filed under ‘National Security and Defense’

SHAKO/FRIDAY FOTO: Devil Dogs

The Devil Dogs’ Dogs

Dog days aboard Wasp

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Bernadette Plouffe)

Marine Corps military working dogs rest at the feet of their handlers aboard the USS Wasp in the South China Sea on October 1, 2018.

O.K., this is kind of an unusual format for the 4GWAR blog, but since November 10 marks the U.S. Marine Corps’ 243rd birthday, we seized on the opportunity to combine the regular Friday Foto for November 9, with a SHAKO feature on a World War I battle that has taken its place with other iconic engagements like Iwo Jima and Tripoli in the history of the Corps.

The nearly month-long Battle of Belleau Wood (June 1-26, 1918) was the first major engagement of American troops on the Western Front in World War I. It also is one of the most significant battles fought by the U.S. Marines, earning them France’s highest military award and the nickname Devil Dogs from the Germans.

Belleau Wood painting

Marines in close combat as depicted in Franc-Earle Schoonover’s Belleau Wood. (National Museum of the Marine Corps collection)

The 4th Marine Brigade, some 9,500 men, was assigned to the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, one of the U.S. units rushed to France just a few months after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. The Marine Brigade consisted of two regiments — the 5th Marines and the 6th Marines — each with three 800-man rifle battalions and a machine gun company.

One June 1, a major German offensive moved south to the Marne River, where they were held at Chateau Thierry by French troops reinforced by the U.S. Army. One of the leading German assault regiments, the 461st Imperial German Infantry, occupied Belleau Wood, a former hunting preserve about 50 miles northwest of Paris. It was a nearly impenetrable forest of dense underbrush, trees, boulders and ravines.

In early June, the Marine Brigade was dug into a defensive line near Belleau Wood, facing a wheat field. More than 2,000 Germans with 30 machine guns were dug in amid the trees and rocks. There were 100 more Germans with at least six machine guns concentrated in the nearby village of Bouresches.

Retreating French troops advised the Marines to withdraw. “Retreat? Hell we just got here,” snapped a company commander with the 5th Marines, Captain Lloyd Williams, whose remark that went down in Marine Corps lore.

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Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly. (Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections)

The Marines took and held Bouresches and drove the Germans out of the  But success came at a horrendous cost. Relying on their celebrated marksmanship (“Every Marine a Rifleman”) the Marines advanced about 400 yards across the wheat field without concentrated artillery support. Heavy German machine gun and artillery fire cut the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines to shreds.  The 6th Marines’ 3rd Battalion managed to make it to the edge of the woods before enemy fire stalled the advance. In the confusion of battle, another iconic Marine Corps legend was born when Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly — who had earned the Medal of Honor twice , in Peking in 1900 and Haiti in 1915 — turned to his men and growled “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

By nightfall on the first day of battle, both Marine battalions suffered  debilitating casualties. Six officers and 222 enlisted men of the 4th Marine Brigade were killed in action. Another 25 officers and 834 men were wounded. This amounted to more casualties than the Marines had suffered in their entire history up until that day, Norwich University professor David Ulbrich observed in an anniversary piece for War on the Rocks.

As the Marines moved into Belleau Wood itself, the fighting seemed especially grim, with hand-to-hand fighting, fixed bayonets and poison gas attacks, noted Michael Ruane in a Washington Post column last May.  The headline on his piece noted: “The Battle of Belleau Wood was brutal, deadly and forgotten. But it forged a new Marine Corps.”

Exploding shells splintered the trees, raining down a deadly shower of wood splinters and metal shrapnel. The Americans and Germans grappled in hand-to-hand combat with knives, rifle butts, bayonets and entrenching shovels.

Belleau Wood shattered trees 1918

Tree Damage, Belleau Wood, circa 1918. An inscription on the photograph reads “Every tree in Belleau Wood bears the scars of battle.” (From the collection of Adolph B. Miller (COLL/1068), United States Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections.)

After three weeks of heavy combat, the Germans were driven out of Belleau Wood. The Marines reached the northern edge of the woods on June 26, sending out the report; “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.

The victory at Belleau Wood had saved Paris and the French were delirious with joy.  The French government renamed Belleau Wood, the “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” and both the 5th and 6th Marine regiments were awarded the Croix de Guerre.

The Germans, too were impressed with the Marines. An official German report described the Marines as “vigorous, self-confident and remarkable marksmen.” Captured German soldiers and their letters described the Marines as Teufelhunde, or Devil Dogs.”

Marines in gas masks

Marines train with gas masks in France. (Photo: Marine Corps History Division)

 

 

 

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November 11, 2018 at 12:47 am 1 comment

SHAKO: Why Elections Matter in 1 Picture and 4 Maps.

Make Sure You Vote … They Did.

soldiers-voting

PENNSYLVANIA SOLDIERS VOTING 1864 .-SKETCHED BY WILLIAM WAUD. (From Harper’s Weekly, October 29, 1864 via  Son of the South website)

The Civil War was the first time the United States had large numbers of soldiers deployed during a presidential election. Politicians of both parties were convinced that the army would vote for the commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. As a result, most states with Republican governors and legislatures passed laws enabling soldiers to vote, while most states led by Democrats did not.

 

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A political map of the United States (circa 1856) showing free states in red, slave states in gray and territories in green. (From the Library of Congress)

The Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the U.S. Supreme Court voided the Missouri Compromise (1820) and made slavery legal in all U.S. territories, exacerbated sectional differences between thos e who wanted to abolish slavery and those who sought to protect the institution. That volatile political climate set the stage for the presidential election of 1860.

 

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Presidential Election 1860. Red shows states won by Lincoln/Hamlin, green by Breckinridge/Lane, orange by Bell/Everett, and blue by Douglas/Johnson
Numbers are Electoral College votes in each state by the 1850 Census. (via Wikipedia)

In the election of 1860, Southern and Northern Democrats split their support among Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky and Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, while others, seeking to ignore the slavery issue, backed former Tennessee Senator John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. Those divisions put the Republican, Abraham Lincoln, in the White House with less than 40 percent of the popular vote, and put the slave-holding states of the South on the road to disunion and civil war.

Secession_Vote_by_CountyA.0

While eleven states voted for secession between December 1860 and June 1861, support for leaving the Union was not unanimous in many Souther counties as the above map shows. (Map via Vox)

Likewise, the Union army’s support for President Lincoln may not have been as widespread as historians have assumed, argues one academic. Lincoln was re-elected as president in 1864. He ran under the National Union banner against his former top Civil War general, the Democratic candidate, George B. McClellan — who had been very popular with the troops of the Army of the Potomac.

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(Map created by History Central)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

November 6, 2018 at 3:35 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 2, 2018)

‘neath Arctic Skies.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin Leitner)

The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), passes under the Northern Lights during exercise Trident Juncture 2018 in the Norwegian Sea, October 26, 2018.

Some 250 aircraft, 65 vessels and up to 10,000 vehicles — as well as an estimated 50,000 troops from 31 countries — are taking part in the biggest NATO exercise since the Cold War.

The massive exercise is taking place through November 7 in central and eastern Norway,  the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea — including Iceland and the airspace of Finland and Sweden (two non-NATO members).

NATO officials say the goal of the operation is to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together, and ready to respond to any threat from any direction. While they deny the exercise is aimed at sending a message to an increasingly belligerent Russia, Moscow sees it differently.

“Even if NATO says otherwise,, Trident Juncture is really preparation for large-scale armed conflict in regions bordering the Russian Federation,” Lieutenant General Valery Zaparenko, former deputy chief of the Russian general staff, told RT, Moscow’s government-funded television station, the New York Times reported.

4GWAR’s Arctic Nation series will focus on Trident Juncture and other arctic news this weekend.

November 2, 2018 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 26, 2018)

Close Quarters Combat

Pride of the Pacific: One Mind, Any Weapon

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sergeant Donald Holbert)

In this frozen moment of time, Marine Corps Corporals Matthew Teutsch and Brett Norman participate in hand-to-hand and close quarters combat training at Camp Pendleton, California The photo was taken October 2, 2018.

While we’re sure this confrontation led to some rough maneuvering before somebody went down, we can’t help but imagine what the face-off might have sounded like:

“Come any closer and I’ll poke you with my stick rifle!”

“Oh yeah? Try it and I’ll stick you with my plastic composite knife.”

All joking aside, this is a magnificent action photo.

 

October 26, 2018 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 12, 2018)

Remembering “A Bridge Too Far”

All American Engineers Honor Valor, Sacrifice of WWII Waal River Crossing

(U.S. Army photo by Major Thomas Cieslak)

Paratroopers paddle rubber boats across a pond at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on October 3, 2018, to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the crossing of the Waal River under heavy German fire by 82nd Airborne Division troops during World War II.

The near suicidal mission — the boats were canvas and wood, there weren’t enough paddles to go around so soldiers used their rifle stocks, they launched the attack in broad daylight and the Germans knew they were coming — was part of the failed British plan to leapfrog across the Netherlands and into Germany, known as Operation Market Garden.

Led by Major Julian Cook’s 3rd Battalion of the 82nd’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the attack crossed the 250-foot wide Waal under blistering mortar, machine gun and rifle fire and took the north end of the bridge. That allowed Allied tanks to cross on their way to Arnhem to relieve British paratroopers holding another bridge. However, heavy German resistance along the exposed, narrow roads thwarted the advance, proving Arnhem was just “a bridge too far.”

Here’s a brief video of 82nd Airborne veteran, James “Maggie” Megellas, describing the attack. Operation Market Garden inspired a book, and later a feature film — both called “A Bridge Too Far.”

In the movie, Robert Redford portrays Cook leading a crossing he knows is insanely dangerous, with a non-stop “Hail Mary,” prayer. Here’s a film clip, that puts the action in perspective. It starts with Allied tank and artillery fire trying to dislodge the entrenched Germans across the river, and German officers planning to blow the bridge in the unlikely event the Americans make it across the river.

October 12, 2018 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 5, 2018)

Cutting edge.

Recruit Training Command Graduation

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer Spencer Fling)

New sailors march inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall during a graduation ceremony on September 28 at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois.

And yes, that weapon held by the parade leader is an honest-to-god cutlass. The Navy jealously guards its traditions and this time-honored sword is one of them.  The cutlass was an official Navy personal weapon until 1949. However, a cutlass is still carried by the recruit designated as the Recruit Chief Petty Officer for each training company  while at Great Lakes, the Navy’s only boot camp.

On March 31, 2010, the Navy said it would permit optional wear of a ceremonial cutlass as part of the Chief Petty Officer dress uniform, pending final design approval. That approval came in January 2011.

For another view of the cutlass in the Great Lakes graduation ceremony, click here.

October 5, 2018 at 11:27 am Leave a comment

1918, The Final Weeks: Aerial Combat

The Arizona Balloon Buster.

Frankluke

Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. with his SPAD S.XIII on September 19, 1918.

Some legendary World War I aviators — like Germany’s Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, or America’s top ace, Eddie Rickenbacker — are still well known to many today.

However, Frank Luke Jr., has seldom been a household name, even though he was the No. 2 U.S. aerial ace during the Great War and earned the Medal of Honor.

Young, handsome and feisty (he was often in trouble with his superiors) Luke had the temperment, skills and killer instinct shared by the best fighter pilots on both sides. And in just a few short weeks in 1918, he shot down eight German planes and 14 enemy observation balloons. His head-on attacks on the hydrogen-filled, heavily guarded balloons earned him the nickname the “Arizona Balloon Buster.”

During a seven-day period, September 12-18, 1918 — two days of which he did not fly — Luke scored 13 confirmed victories, including five victories (two balloons and three airplanes) on the last day, according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Luke was born in 1897 in Phoenix, Arizona — ironically the son of German immigrants — and with anti-German feeling running high after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 (remember sauerkraut’s name was changed to “Liberty Cabbage”) he enlisted almost immediately in the U.S. Army. He joined the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, earned his wings and sailed for France. He was assigned to the famed 27th Aero Squadron in July 1918.

In September 1918, Luke began a personal campaign against German observation balloons and airplanes. In a single week, he scored 13 confirmed victories, including three aircraft and two balloons in one day.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA:  WORLD WAR I/AVIATION, PHOTOGRAPHY, OBSERVATION

Luke brought down three German observation balloons in 35 minutes. He stands beside one of his kills. (U.S. Army photo)

His final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in late September 1918. After shooting down three observation balloons six miles behind the German lines, Luke was severely wounded by a single machine gun bullet on September 29, 1918. He landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux — after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground. Weakened by his wound, he collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. There are contradicting stories about what happened next. Some say Luke drew his Colt 1911 pistol as German infantry approached  and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying. Others state he refused enemy calls for his surrender and killed several Germans before succumbing to his chest wound.

Here is the official Medal of Honor citation:

After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.

Luke Air Force Base, located west of Phoenix, Arizona, is named for the Balloon Buster.

October 4, 2018 at 11:00 pm Leave a comment

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