Category Archive 'WWII'
09 Oct 2019

“Jeep in a Crate” — A Persistent Urban Legend

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Somebody posted the above photograph in the Vintage Firearms Discussion Group on Facebook (the link probably won’t work if you aren’t a member), and a lengthy argument ensued. I’m afraid the skeptics won.

WWII Jeep Parts debunks the legend:

“Cheap Army Surplus Jeeps! You can buy a brand new jeep in a crate for $50!” Ads with headlines like this ran for decades in the back of Boy’s Life, Popular Mechanics, and several other magazines I used to read as a kid in the 1960’s (and those ads probably ran in the 1940’s and 1950’s as well). The ads promised to tell you how to buy Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps and other government surplus for extremely low prices. They charged a fee for sending you this information. You mailed in your payment and waited for the postman to deliver the pamphlet that would divulge the secrets of buying tools, equipment, jeeps, trucks, etc. etc. on the cheap for “your fun and profit”.

RTWT

24 Jul 2019

Taki Looks at Generation Wuss

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Taki recently had some unkind thoughts about today’s rising generation, all their talk about trigger-warnings and microaggressions, their complaints about being made to feel “unsafe.”

[L]et’s [discuss] the young, or snowflakes, as they’re called nowadays. Last year I spent a week on the beaches of Normandy in the company of some military historians preparing their books for this year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day. We visited the first German bunker to be hit right on the edge of the beach about fifty yards from the sea. James Holland, the noted British historian, pointed out that the first Victoria Cross was awarded to a Scot grenadier who blew up the bunker, killing all the Germans inside. I pointed out to him that the defenders were mostly men over 50 and some youngsters of 16 and 17. They had a couple of machine guns and a Panzerfaust—bazooka—as weapons. Looking out, they had seen 6,700 ships or so firing their huge guns at them. No one had run. They had stood and died at their posts. It was not a popular argument—everyone was British—but the courage of the German soldier was not disputed. Nor, of course, of the invading American, British, and Canadian troops.

What does the above have to do with the hissy fits sparked by our youth of today? Everything! The men who fought on the beaches 75 years ago never saw themselves as worthy of special treatment. None of them were “offended” or “upset” when ordered to jump into the water under a hail of bullets and hit the beaches. Ditto the Germans when ordered to stand and fight against incredible superior odds. When the snowflakes complain about some rape scene in a long-ago-published book, and the fact they had not been warned about it, I wonder what the men who fought on those beaches must think. (Thank God for the brave men, very few are left alive to read such BS.) But dear readers, try to imagine these phone zombies, selfie addicts, and me-me-me gamers of today being ordered to attack or defend those beaches. They would expire before the first shot was fired. Long live us oldies.

19 Jun 2019

A Chance Encounter in the Appenines

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Clouded Apollo (Parnassius apollo siciliae)

The Spectator has an excerpt from Eric Newby’s
Love and War in the Appenines:

I took off my rucksack and lay down in a grassy hollow at the edge of the cliff. The sun was hot and soon I took off my shirt and then my boots and socks. The air was filled with the humming of bees and the buzzing of insects and from somewhere further up the mountain there came the clanking of sheep bells, carried on a gentle breeze that was blowing from that direction. Then a single bell began to toll in the valley, and other more distant bells echoed it, but they soon ceased and I looked across to the distant peaks which previously had been so clearly delineated but were now beginning to shimmer and become indistinct in the haze that was enveloping them. And quite soon I fell asleep.

I woke to find a German soldier standing over me. At first, with the sun behind him, he was as indistinct as the peaks had become, but then he swam into focus. He was an officer and he was wearing summer battledress and a soft cap with a long narrow peak. He had a pistol but it was still in its holster on his belt and he seemed to have forgotten that he was armed because he made no effort to draw it. Across one shoulder and hanging down over one hip in a very unmilitary way he wore a large old-fashioned civilian haversack, as if he was a member of a weekend rambling club, rather than a soldier, and in one hand he held a large, professional-looking butterfly net. He was a tall, thin, pale young man of about 25 with mild eyes and he appeared as surprised to see me as I was to see him, but much less alarmed than I was, virtually immobilized, lying on my back without my boots and socks on.

‘Buon giorno,’ he said, courteously. His accent sounded rather like mine must, I thought. ‘Che bella giornata.’

At least up to now he seemed to have assumed that I was an Italian, but as soon as I opened my mouth he would know I wasn’t. Perhaps I ought to try and push him over the cliff, after all he was standing with his back to it; but I knew that I wouldn’t. It seemed awful even to think of murdering someone who had simply wished me good day and remarked on what a beautiful one it was, let alone actually doing it. If ever there was going to be an appropriate time to go on stage in the part of the mute from Genoa which I had often rehearsed but never played, this was it. I didn’t answer.

‘Da dove viene, lei?’ he asked.

I just continued to look at him. I suppose I should have been making strangled noises and pointing down my throat to emphasize my muteness, but just as I couldn’t bring myself to assail him, I couldn’t do this either. It seemed too ridiculous. But he was not to be put off. He removed his haversack, put down his butterfly net, sat down opposite me in the hollow and said: ‘Lei, non e Italiano.’

It was not a question. It was a statement of fact which did not require an answer. I decided to abandon my absurd act.

‘Si, sono Italiano.’

He looked at me, studying me carefully: my face, my clothes and my boots which, after my accent, were my biggest give-away, although they were very battered now.

‘I think that you are English,’ he said, finally, in English. ‘English, or from one of your colonies. You cannot be an English deserter; you are on the wrong side of the battle front. You do not look like a parachutist or a saboteur. You must be a prisoner-of-war. That is so, is it not?’

I said nothing.

‘Do not be afraid,’ he went on. ‘I will not tell anyone that I have met you, I have no intention of spoiling such a splendid day either for you or for myself. They are too rare.

RTWT

06 Jun 2019

D-Day

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ZeroHedge quotes S.L.A. Marshall’s classic account of the landing at Omaha Beach.

[L]et’s follow along with Able and Baker companies, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Their story is lifted from my fading Normandy notebook, which covers the landing of every Omaha company.

Able Company riding the tide in seven Higgins boats is still five thousand yards from the beach when first taken under artillery fire. The shells fall short. At one thousand yards, Boat No. 5 is hit dead on and foundered. Six men drown before help arrives. Second Lieutenant Edward Gearing and twenty others paddle around until picked up by naval craft, thereby missing the fight at the shore line. It’s their lucky day. The other six boats ride unscathed to within one hundred yards of the shore, where a shell into Boat No. 3 kills two men. Another dozen drown, taking to the water as the boat sinks. That leaves five boats.

Lieutenant Edward Tidrick in Boat No. 2 cries out: “My God, we’re coming in at the right spot, but look at it! No shingle, no wall, no shell holes, no cover. Nothing!”

His men are at the sides of the boat, straining for a view of the target. They stare but say nothing. At exactly 6:36 A.M. ramps are dropped along the boat line and the men jump off in water anywhere from waist deep to higher than a man’s head. This is the signal awaited by the Germans atop the bluff. Already pounded by mortars, the floundering line is instantly swept by crossing machine-gun fires from both ends of the beach.

Able Company has planned to wade ashore in three files from each boat, center file going first, then flank files peeling off to right and left. The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards. Even the lightly wounded die by drowning, doomed by the waterlogging of their overloaded packs. From Boat No. 1, all hands jump off in water over their heads. Most of them are carried down. Ten or so survivors get around the boat and clutch at its sides in an attempt to stay afloat. The same thing happens to the section in Boat No. 4. Half of its people are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore. All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot.

Already the sea runs red. Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water. A few move safely through the bullet swarm to the beach, then find that they cannot hold there. They return to the water to use it for body cover. Faces turned upward, so that their nostrils are out of water, they creep toward the land at the same rate as the tide. That is how most of the survivors make it. The less rugged or less clever seek the cover of enemy obstacles moored along the upper half of the beach and are knocked off by machine-gun fire.

Within seven minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is inert and leaderless. At Boat No. 2, Lieutenant Tidrick takes a bullet through the throat as he jumps from the ramp into the water. He staggers onto the sand and flops down ten feet from Private First Class Leo J. Nash. Nash sees the blood spurting and hears the strangled words gasped by Tidrick: “Advance with the wire cutters!” It’s futile; Nash has no cutters. To give the order, Tidrick has raised himself up on his hands and made himself a target for an instant. Nash, burrowing into the sand, sees machine gun bullets rip Tidrick from crown to pelvis. From the cliff above, the German gunners are shooting into the survivors as from a roof top.

Captain Taylor N. Fellers and Lieutenant Benjamin R. Kearfoot never make it. They had loaded with a section of thirty men in Boat No. 6 (Landing Craft, Assault, No. 1015). But exactly what happened to this boat and its human cargo was never to be known. No one saw the craft go down. How each man aboard it met death remains unreported. Half of the drowned bodies were later found along the beach. It is supposed that the others were claimed by the sea.

Along the beach, only one Able Company officer still lives—Lieutenant Elijah Nance, who is hit in the heel as he quits the boat and hit in the belly by a second bullet as he makes the sand. By the end of ten minutes, every sergeant is either dead or wounded. To the eyes of such men as Private Howard I. Grosser and Private First Class Gilbert G. Murdock, this clean sweep suggests that the Germans on the high ground have spotted all leaders and concentrated fire their way. Among the men who are still moving in with the tide, rifles, packs, and helmets have already been cast away in the interests of survival.

To the right of where Tidrick’s boat is drifting with the tide, its coxswain lying dead next to the shell-shattered wheel, the seventh craft, carrying a medical section with one officer and sixteen men, noses toward the beach. The ramp drops. In that instant, two machine guns concentrate their fire on the opening. Not a man is given time to jump. All aboard are cut down where they stand.

By the end of fifteen minutes, Able Company has still not fired a weapon. No orders are being given by anyone. No words are spoken. The few able-bodied survivors move or not as they see fit. Merely to stay alive is a full-time job. The fight has become a rescue operation in which nothing counts but the force of a strong example.

Above all others stands out the first-aid man, Thomas Breedin. Reaching the sands, he strips off pack, blouse, helmet, and boots. For a moment he stands there so that others on the strand will see him and get the same idea. Then he crawls into the water to pull in wounded men about to be overlapped by the tide. The deeper water is still spotted with tide walkers advancing at the same pace as the rising water. But now, owing to Breedin’s example, the strongest among them become more conspicuous targets. Coming along, they pick up wounded comrades and float them to the shore raftwise. Machine-gun fire still rakes the water. Burst after burst spoils the rescue act, shooting the floating man from the hands of the walker or killing both together. But Breedin for this hour leads a charmed life and stays with his work indomitably.

By the end of one half hour, approximately two thirds of the company is forever gone. There is no precise casualty figure for that moment. There is for the Normandy landing as a whole no accurate figure for the first hour or first day. The circumstances precluded it. Whether more Able Company riflemen died from water than from fire is known only to heaven. All earthly evidence so indicates, but cannot prove it.

By the end of one hour, the survivors from the main body have crawled across the sand to the foot of the bluff, where there is a narrow sanctuary of defiladed space. There they lie all day, clean spent, unarmed, too shocked to feel hunger, incapable even of talking to one another. No one happens by to succor them, ask what has happened, provide water, or offer unwanted pity. D Day at Omaha afforded no time or space for such missions. Every landing company was overloaded by its own assault problems.

By the end of one hour and forty-five minutes, six survivors from the boat section on the extreme right shake loose and work their way to a shelf a few rods up the cliff. Four fall exhausted from the short climb and advance no farther. They stay there through the day, seeing no one else from the company. The other two, Privates Jake Shefer and Thomas Lovejoy, join a group from the Second Ranger Battalion, which is assaulting Pointe du Hoc to the right of the company sector, and fight on with the Rangers through the day. Two men. Two rifles. Except for these, Able Company’s contribution to the D Day fire fight is a cipher.

Baker Company which is scheduled to land twenty-six minutes after Able and right on top of it, supporting and reinforcing, has had its full load of trouble on the way in. So rough is the sea during the journey that the men have to bail furiously with their helmets to keep the six boats from swamping. Thus preoccupied, they do not see the disaster which is overtaking Able until they are almost atop it. Then, what their eyes behold is either so limited or so staggering to the senses that control withers, the assault wave begins to dissolve, and disunity induced by fear virtually cancels the mission. A great cloud of smoke and dust raised by the mortar and machine-gun fire has almost closed a curtain around Able Company’s ordeal. Outside the pall, nothing is to be seen but a line of corpses adrift, a few heads bobbing in the water and the crimson-running tide. But this is enough for the British coxswains. They raise the cry: “We can’t go in there. We can’t see the landmarks. We must pull off.”

In the command boat, Captain Ettore V. Zappacosta pulls a Colt .45 and says: “By God, you’ll take this boat straight in.” His display of courage wins obedience, but it’s still a fool’s order. Such of Baker’s boats as try to go straight in suffer Able’s fate without helping the other company whatever. Thrice during the approach mortar shells break right next to Zappacosta’s boat but by an irony leave it unscathed, thereby sparing the riders a few more moments of life. At seventy-five yards from the sand Zappacosta yells: “Drop the ramp !” The end goes down, and a storm of bullet fire comes in.

Zappacosta jumps first from the boat, reels ten yards through the elbow-high tide, and yells back: “I’m hit.” He staggers on a few more steps. The aid man, Thomas Kenser, sees him bleeding from hip and shoulder. Kenser yells: “Try to make it in; I’m coming.” But the captain falls face forward into the wave, and the weight of his equipment and soaked pack pin him to the bottom. Kenser jumps toward him and is shot dead while in the air. Lieutenant Tom Dallas of Charley Company, who has come along to make a reconnaissance, is the third man. He makes it to the edge of the sand. There a machine-gun burst blows his head apart before he can flatten.

Private First Class Robert L. Sales, who is lugging Zappacosta’s radio (an SCR 300), is the fourth man to leave the boat, having waited long enough to see the others die. His boot heel catches on the edge of the ramp and he falls sprawling into the tide, losing the radio but saving his life. Every man who tries to follow him is either killed or wounded before reaching dry land. Sales alone gets to the beach unhit. To travel those few yards takes him two hours. First he crouches in the water, and waddling forward on his haunches just a few paces, collides with a floating log—driftwood. In that moment, a mortar shell explodes just above his head, knocking him groggy. He hugs the log to keep from going down, and somehow the effort seems to clear his head a little. Next thing he knows, one of Able Company’s tide walkers hoists him aboard the log and, using his sheath knife, cuts away Sales’s pack, boots, and assault jacket.

Feeling stronger, Sales returns to the water, and from behind the log, using it as cover, pushes toward the sand. Private Mack L. Smith of Baker Company, hit three times through the face, joins him there. An Able Company rifleman named Kemper, hit thrice in the right leg, also comes alongside. Together they follow the log until at last they roll it to the farthest reach of high tide. Then they flatten themselves behind it, staying there for hours after the flow has turned to ebb. The dead of both companies wash up to where they lie, and then wash back out to sea again. As a body drifts in close to them, Sales and companions, disregarding the fire, crawl from behind the log to take a look. If any one of them recognizes the face of a comrade, they join in dragging the body up onto the dry sand beyond the water’s reach. The unfamiliar dead are left to the sea. So long as the tide is full, they stay with this unique task. Later, an unidentified first-aid man who comes wiggling along the beach dresses the wounds of Smith. Sales, as he finds strength, bandages Kemper. The three remain behind the log until night falls. There is nothing else to be reported of any member of Zappacosta’s boat team.

Only one other Baker Company boat tries to come straight in to the beach. Somehow the boat founders. Somehow all of its people are killed—one British coxswain and about thirty American infantrymen. Where they fall, there is no one to take note of and report.

Frightened coxswains in the other four craft take one quick look, instinctively draw back, and then veer right and left away from the Able Company shambles. So doing, they dodge their duty while giving a break to their passengers. Such is the shock to the boat team leaders, and such their feeling of relief at the turning movement, that not one utters a protest. Lieutenant Leo A. Pingenot’s coxswain swings the boat far rightward toward Pointe du Hoc; then, spying a small and deceptively peaceful-looking cove, heads directly for the land. Fifty yards out, Pingenot yells: “Drop the ramp!” The coxswain freezes on the rope, refusing to lower. Staff Sergeant Odell L. Padgett jumps him, throttles him, and bears him to the floor. Padgett’s men lower the rope and jump for the water. In two minutes, they are all in up to their necks and struggling to avoid drowning. That quickly, Pingenot is already far out ahead of them. Padgett comes even with him, and together they cross onto dry land. The beach of the cove is heavily strewn with giant boulders. Bullets seem to be pinging off every rock.

Pingenot and Padgett dive behind the same rock. Then they glance back, but to their horror see not one person. Quite suddenly smoke has half blanked out the scene beyond the water’s edge. Pingenot moans: “My God, the whole boat team is dead.” Padgett sings out: “Hey, are you hit?” Back come many voices from beyond the smoke. “What’s the rush?” “Take it easy!” “We’ll get there.” “Where’s the fire?” “Who wants to know?” The men are still moving along, using the water as cover. Padgett’s yell is their first information that anyone else has moved up front. They all make it to the shore, and they are twenty-eight strong at first. Pingenot and Padgett manage to stay ahead of them, coaxing and encouraging. Padgett keeps yelling: “Come on, goddam it, things are better up here!” But still they lose two men killed and three wounded in crossing the beach.

In the cove, the platoon latches on to a company of Rangers, fights all day as part of that company, and helps destroy the enemy entrenchments atop Pointe du Hoc. By sundown that mop-up is completed. The platoon bivouacs at the first hedgerow beyond the cliff.

The other Baker Company boat, which turns to the right, has far less luck. Staff Sergeant Robert M. Campbell, who leads the section, is the first man to jump out when the ramp goes down. He drops in drowning water, and his load of two bangalore torpedoes takes him straight to the bottom. So he jettisons the bangalores and then, surfacing, cuts away all equipment for good measure. Machine-gun fire brackets him, and he submerges again briefly. Never a strong swimmer, he heads back out to sea. For two hours he paddles around, two hundred or so yards from the shore. Though he hears and sees nothing of the battle, he somehow gets the impression that the invasion has failed and that all other Americans are dead, wounded, or have been taken prisoner. Strength fast going, in despair he moves ashore rather than drown. Beyond the smoke he quickly finds the fire. So he grabs a helmet from a dead man’s head, crawls on hands and knees to the sea wall, and there finds five of his men, two of them unwounded.

Like Campbell, Private First Class Jan J. Budziszewski is carried to the bottom by his load of two bangalores. He hugs them half a minute before realizing that he will either let loose or drown. Next, he shucks off his helmet and pack and drops his rifle. Then he surfaces. After swimming two hundred yards, he sees that he is moving in exactly the wrong direction. So he turns about and heads for the beach, where he crawls ashore “under a rain of bullets.” In his path lies a dead Ranger. Budziszewski takes the dead man’s helmet, rifle, and canteen and crawls on to the sea wall. The only survivor from Campbell’s boat section to get off the beach, he spends his day walking to and fro along the foot of the bluff, looking for a friendly face. But he meets only strangers, and none shows any interest in him.

In Lieutenant William B. Williams’ boat, the coxswain steers sharp left and away from Zappacosta’s sector. Not seeing the captain die, Williams doesn’t know that command has now passed to him. Guiding on his own instinct, the coxswain moves along the coast six hundred yards, then puts the boat straight in. It’s a good guess; he has found a little vacuum in the battle. The ramp drops on dry sand and the boat team jumps ashore. Yet it’s a close thing. Mortar fire has dogged them all the way; and as the last rifleman clears the ramp, one shell lands dead center of the boat, blows it apart, and kills the coxswain. Momentarily, the beach is free of fire, but the men cannot cross it at a bound. Weak from seasickness and fear, they move at a crawl, dragging their equipment. By the end of twenty minutes, Williams and ten men are over the sand and resting in the lee of the sea wall. Five others are hit by machine-gun fire crossing the beach; six men, last seen while taking cover in a tidal pocket, are never heard from again. More mortar fire lands around the party as Williams leads it across the road beyond the sea wall. The men scatter. When the shelling lifts, three of them do not return. Williams leads the seven survivors up a trail toward the fortified village of Les Moulins atop the bluff. He recognizes the ground and knows that he is taking on a tough target. Les Moulins is perched above a draw, up which winds a dirt road from the beach, designated on the invasion maps as Exit No. 3.

Williams and his crew of seven are the first Americans to approach it D Day morning. Machine-gun fire from a concrete pillbox sweeps over them as they near the brow of the hill, moving now at a crawl through thick grass. Williams says to the others: “Stay here; we’re too big a target!” They hug earth, and he crawls forward alone, moving via a shallow gully. Without being detected, he gets to within twenty yards of the gun, obliquely downslope from it. He heaves a grenade; but he has held it just a bit too long and it explodes in air, just outside the embrasure. His second grenade hits the concrete wall and bounces right back on him. Three of its slugs hit him in the shoulders. Then, from out of the pillbox, a German potato masher sails down on him and explodes just a few feet away; five more fragments cut into him. He starts crawling back to his men; en route, three bullets from the machine gun rip his rump and right leg.

The seven are still there. Williams hands his map and compass to Staff Sergeant Frank M. Price, saying: “It’s your job now. But go the other way—toward Vierville.” Price starts to look at Williams’ wounds, but Williams shakes him off, saying: “No, get moving.” He then settles himself in a hole in the embankment, stays there all day, and at last gets medical attention just before midnight.

On leaving Williams, Price’s first act is to hand map and compass (the symbols of leadership) to Technical Sergeant William Pearce, whose seniority the lieutenant has overlooked. They cross the draw, one man at a time, and some distance beyond come to a ravine; on the far side, they bump their first hedgerow, and as they look for an entrance, fire comes against them. Behind a second hedgerow, not more than thirty yards away, are seven Germans, five rides and two burp guns. On exactly even terms, these two forces engage for the better part of an hour, apparently with no one’s getting hit. Then Pearce settles the fight by crawling along a drainage ditch to the enemy flank. He kills the seven Germans with a Browning Automatic Rifle.

For Pearce and his friends, it is a first taste of battle; its success is giddying. Heads up, they walk along the road straight into Vierville, disregarding all precautions. They get away with it only because that village is already firmly in the hands of Lieutenant Walter Taylor of Baker Company and twenty men from his boat team.

Taylor is a luminous figure in the story of D Day, one of the forty-seven immortals of Omaha who, by their dauntless initiative at widely separated points along the beach, saved the landing from total stagnation and disaster. Courage and luck are his in extraordinary measure.

When Baker Company’s assault wave breaks up just short of the surf where Able Company is in ordeal, Taylor’s coxswain swings his boat sharp left, then heads toward the shore about halfway between Zappacosta’s boat and Williams’. Until a few seconds after the ramp drops, this bit of beach next to the village called Hamel-au-Prêtre is blessedly clear of fire. No mortar shells crown the start. Taylor leads his section crawling across the beach and over the sea wall, losing four men killed and two wounded (machine-gun fire) in this brief movement. Some yards off to his right, Taylor has seen Lieutenants Harold Donaldson and Emil Winkler shot dead. But there is no halt for reflection; Taylor leads the section by trail straight up the bluff and into Vierville, where his luck continues. In a two-hour fight he whips a German platoon without losing a man.

The village is quiet when Pearce joins him. Pearce says: “Williams is shot up back there and can’t move.”

Says Taylor: “I guess that makes me company commander.”

Answers Pearce: “This is probably all of Baker Company.” Pearce takes a head count; they number twenty-eight, including Taylor.

Says Taylor: “That ought to be enough. Follow me!”

Inland from Vierville about five hundred yards lies the Château de Vaumicel, imposing in its rock-walled massiveness, its hedgerow-bordered fields all entrenched and interconnected with artilleryproof tunnels. To every man but Taylor the target looks prohibitive. Still, they follow him. Fire stops them one hundred yards short of the château. The Germans are behind a hedgerow at mid-distance. Still feeling their way, Taylor’s men flatten, open fire with rifles, and toss a few grenades, though the distance seems too great. By sheer chance, one grenade glances off the helmet of a German squatting in a foxhole. He jumps up, shouting: “Kamerad! Kamerad!” Thereupon twenty-four of the enemy walk from behind the hedgerow with their hands in the air. Taylor pares off one of his riflemen to march the prisoners back to the beach. The brief fight costs him three wounded. Within the château, he takes two more prisoners, a German doctor and his first-aid man. Taylor puts them on a “kind of a parole,” leaving his three wounded in their keeping while moving his platoon to the first crossroads beyond the château.

Here he is stopped by the sudden arrival of three truckloads of German infantry, who deploy into the fields on both flanks of his position and start an envelopment. The manpower odds, about three to one against him, are too heavy. In the first trade of fire, lasting not more than two minutes, a rifleman lying beside Taylor is killed, three others are wounded, and the B.A.R. is shot from Pearce’s hands. That leaves but twenty men and no automatic weapons.

Taylor yells: “Back to the château!” They go out, crawling as far as the first hedgerow; then they rise and trot along, supporting their wounded. Taylor is the last man out, having stayed behind to cover the withdrawal with his carbine until the hedgerows interdict fire against the others. So far, this small group has had no contact with any other part of the expedition, and for all its members know, the invasion may have failed.

They make it to the château. The enemy comes on and moves in close. The attacking fire builds up. But the stone walls are fire-slotted, and through the midday and early afternoon these ports well serve the American riflemen. The question is whether the ammunition will outlast the Germans. It is answered at sundown, just as the supply runs out, by the arrival of fifteen Rangers who join their fire with Taylor’s, and the Germans fade back.

Already Taylor and his force are farther south than any element of the right flank in the Omaha expedition. But Taylor isn’t satisfied. The battalion objective, as specified for the close of D Day, is still more than one half mile to the westward. He says to the others: “We’ve got to make it.”

So he leads them forth, once again serving as first scout, eighteen of his own riflemen and fifteen Rangers following in column. One man is killed by a bullet getting away from Vaumicel. Dark closes over them. They prepare to bivouac. Having got almost to the village of Louvieres, they are by this time almost one half mile in front of anything else in the United States Army. There a runner reaches them with the message that the remnants of the battalion are assembling seven hundred yards closer to the sea; Taylor and party are directed to fall back on them. It is done.

Later, still under the spell, Price paid the perfect tribute to Taylor. He said: “We saw no sign of fear in him. Watching him made men of us. Marching or fighting, he was leading. We followed him because there was nothing else to do.”

Thousands of Americans were spilled onto Omaha Beach. The high ground was won by a handful of men like Taylor who on that day burned with a flame bright beyond common understanding.

27 May 2019

Memorial Day

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WWII Victory Medal

All of my grandparents’ sons and one daughter, now all departed, served.

JoeZincavage1
Joseph Zincavage (1907-1998) Navy
(No wartime photograph available, but he’s sitting on a Henderson Motorcycle in this one.)


William Zincavage (1914-1997) Marine Corps


Edward Zincavage (1917-2002) Marine Corps


Eleanor Zincavage Cichetti (1922-2003) Marine Corps

16 May 2019

Papa Hemingway’s WWII Expense Report: $187,000 in 2019 Dollars

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Looking for his lighter, somewhere in France, WWII.

Hiring Hemingway as War Correspondent could be expensive, as Collier’s learned the hard way: “His expenses in London included $680 (about $9,700 in 2019 money) for hire of a car and chauffeur, $220 ($3,100) for laundry, newspapers and tips, and a total of $1,824 ($26,000) for entertaining officers, meals with fighter pilots and three dinners with British politicians and newspaper proprietors. … He charged the magazine for things that got lost or destroyed, including $350 ($5,000) for field glasses ruined in Schnee Eifel and a typewriter destroyed at St. Lo. His entertainment budget for this segment of the trip ran to $2,200 ($31,000).” And so on.

Columbia Journalism Review:

Collier’s, a glossy weekly with a circulation of 2.8 million, was known as a forum for stellar writing. It was perhaps the most prestigious magazine in America, rivaled only by The Saturday Evening Post. It had commissioned Hemingway to cover what are now some of the most famous events in history, including the western Allies’ invasion of France and the collapse of the Third Reich.

We might have remembered that reportage alongside the best of his fiction. But we don’t—because Hemingway’s stint at Collier’s was a disaster.

His editors in New York were unimpressed with the six articles he filed. They were heroic portrayals, as requested, but of himself as much as of the protagonists in the epic events he was covering. Though he’d proven himself a capable war correspondent in Spain, China, and elsewhere, he had grown to dislike journalism. The relationship with Collier’s was cursed from the outset, and by the end of the war it had descended into a spat over an expense claim for about $13,000—or $187,000 in today’s money.

RTWT

22 Apr 2019

“I Was Killed Near Rzhev”

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Hybridtechcar:

In the Rzhevsky district of the Tver region, near the village of Khoroshevo, a memorial to the Soviet Soldier will be installed, which will be visible from the federal highway M-9. The monument commemorates the heroism and courage of the Red Army soldiers who fought in the bloody battles for Rzhev and on the perimeter of the Rzhev-Vyazma ridge. The project of the memorial was designed by the sculptor Andrei Korobtsov from Belgorod. His work “I was killed near Rzhev” became the best among 19 projects. Construction will begin this year and will be completed by the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory in 2020.

10 Apr 2019

Omaha Beach, Then and Now

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20 Feb 2019

Yesterday Was John Basilone Day

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From Quora:

Gunnery Sergeant Manila John Basilone was the only Marine in WWII to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

A guy who holds a machine gun in his bare hands killing the enemy all night is pretty bad ass, but he was even more then that.

Guadalcanal was a fierce clash of national wills. Bloodied and humiliated by the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, American armed forces were on the comeback trail less than six months after the debacle. At Guadalcanal, a disease-infested island, two superb military organizations met each other for the first time in land combat — bayonet to bayonet — in a contest only one army could win.

The United States Marines were determined to keep their small foothold of Henderson Field and the Japanese were equally determined to drive them into the sea. During the protracted battle which lasted for six months, the struggle to “own” Henderson Field came to a bloody climax on Sunday night 25, October, 1942.

At Lunga Ridge — about 1,000 yards south of Henderson Field it was raining torrents, creating miserable, bottomless mud — typical Guadalcanal weather. The MARINES manning the main line of defense were exhausted. For two days Japanese human wave assaults had been flung against them. Each time the charging enemy had been driven off — but the weary MARINES knew their tough adversaries weren’t through. The Japanese would gather reinforcements and return.

About midnight, from the gloom of ink-black darkness came hundreds of screaming Japanese troops. Throwing themselves on the flesh-cutting barbed wire, the first of the waves formed human bridges for their comrades to leap across. One of the Marine section leaders facing them was Sergeant “Manila John” Basilone. An experienced machine gunner, Basilone knew his guns would be tested to their mechanical limits. It would be up to him to keep them firing.

During the attack when grenades, small arms and machine guns were ripping the night and exploding human flesh splattered friend and foe, Sergeant Basilone stayed with his malaria-ridden men.

Repeatedly repairing guns and changing barrels in almost total darkness, he ran for ammo or steadied his terrified men who were firing full trigger to keep a sheet of white-hot lead pouring into the ranks of the charging Japanese.

Bodies piled so high in front of his weapons pits they had to be reset so the barrels could fire over the piles of corpses. Not even the famous water-cooled heavy machine guns could stop all the assaults and one section of guns were overrun. Two men killed, three others wounded.

Basilone took one of his guns on his back and raced for the breach in the line. Eight Japanese were surprised and killed. The guns were jammed by mud and water and a few yards away the Japanese were forming for another charge. Frantically stripping mud from the ammo belts men fed them into the guns as Basilone cleared jams and sprayed the fiendish troops rushing at his positions with razor-sharp bayonets and hands full of grenades.

Sometime after 0200 the firing died down. No one relaxed. At 0300 the final remnants of the Sendai Regiments with their officers prepared themselves for a final Banzai charge. The full weight of the fanatical Japanese seemed to fall on Basilone’s men. But he had set up a cross fire which smashed the charge. Dropping to the mud, still screaming Colonel Sendai’s remnants crawled forward trying to reach their tormentors. Depressing the muzzles of his weapons — Basilone destroyed them. Nash Phillips lost a hand fighting next to his Sergeant. He was surprised to see John Basilone appear next to his bed a little while after dawn.

“He was barefooted and his eyes were red as fire. His face was dirty black from gunfire and lack of sleep. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his shoulders. He had a .45 tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He’d just dropped by to see how I was making out; me and the others in the section. I’ll never forget him. He’ll never be dead in my mind!”

With dawn the battlefield was strewn with dead and wounded Americans and Japanese — but Henderson Field still belonged to the Americans and its ownership would never be seriously challenged again. At least 38 dead Japanese were credited to Sergeant Basilone — many were killed with his Colt .45 at almost arm’s length. Just 26 years old, Manila John Basilone had entered the ranks of the Marine Corps pantheon of heroes — and shortly America would take the big, handsome Marine with jug ears and a smile like a neon sign to their hearts. The legend of a “Fighting Sergeant” was born.

When the battle was over and his squad members interviewed, Sergeant Basilone was credited by his men for his will to fight and ability to inspire them in a night of cold fear none ever forgot.

Within a short time the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal and prepared to meet other Marine invasions of their strongholds elsewhere in the Pacific. American fighting men had proven they could beat the best of the best, the most experienced troops Japan could throw at them. After Guadalcanal the Japanese high command had a fresh respect for the MARINES. They would be forced to meet time and time again as America pressed across the Pacific toward their homeland.

When he received the nation’s highest decoration, John Basilone replied modestly, “Only part of this medal belongs to me. Pieces of it belong to the boys who are still on Guadalcanal. It was rough as hell down there.” On the 1943 War Bond Tour Sergeant Basilone was to say, “Doing a ‘stateside tour is tougher than fighting Japs.”

When Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone voluntarily returned to the Pacific war it would be on the sands of Iwo Jima 19, February, 1945. At the head of another machine gun squad, he would drive hundreds of frightened raw troops off the beaches toward their assigned objectives. Iwo would be his toughest fight. Barely on the island two hours, he was killed leading his men.

… John Basilone is still remembered in his hometown of Raritan, New Jersey. Every year there’s a Basilone Day celebration and small parade and at the park at the edge of town there’s a life sized bronze statute of him in fatigues with his machine gun in his hand and a plaque telling his story. His family still lives in town.

His Wikipedia entry.

22 Jan 2019

WWII RAF Exploit

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Wg Cdr Ken Gatward.

In 1942 an RAF pilot flew to occupied Paris, dropped a huge French flag over the Arc de Triomphe, then shot up the Gestapo HQ. It was done to cheer up the French and annoy the Germans.

Telegraph story.

20 Jan 2019

Ernst Jünger: Wartime Diaries

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Alex Colville, in the Spectator, rather ungenerously reviews the new Columbia University Press publication of the wartime diaries of Ernst Jünger.

Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, aged 102, is now better known for his persona than his work. A deeply confusing and controversial figure who loathed democracy and glorified German militarism, yet despised the Nazis, he not only bore witness to the industrial flesh-mangles of two world wars, but almost the entirety of the 20th century. His writings and insights have long earned him sage
status in Germany. This, the first publication in English of his diaries from 1941–45, heightens his complexity but also makes him a more rounded figure.

This will come as a surprise to those who know him as the ruthless young warrior of the infamous Great War memoir, Storm of Steel, in which Jünger narrates one mass slaughter after another with calm detachment, even coldness — comrades repeatedly blown to bits or shot in the head. The book bristles with militarism, with no room for individual suffering. Men are briefly sketched and swiftly killed, to be replaced by new faces indistinguishable from those before.

Critically wounded 14 times leading raids on British trenches for the Fatherland, Jünger earned the highest military honour in Germany, Pour le Mérite, aged just 23. He becomes a romantic hero, willing to lay down his life for a just cause that bonds men in a firm camaraderie: ‘Battle brings men together, whereas inactivity separates them.’ A bestseller in 1920, it was said to be one of Hitler’s favourite books.

But by 1941 times had changed. Jünger abandoned German nationalism after 1933, forbidding Goebbels to use his work for propaganda purposes, and the Gestapo raided his Berlin flat. He despised the Nazis’ implementation of violence to eliminate the weak, chivalrously believing in its use to protect them — a constant theme of Storm of Steel. He was convinced that women and children at home would benefit from his sacrifice.

RTWT

16 Dec 2018

“The Secret Code of Watches”

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Panerai Radiomir.

Michael Brendan Dougherty explains why he wants a hideously expensive huge wristwatch, historically associated with the Italian Navy.

If my children someday ask me about a certain personal extravagance, I will blame the Axis Powers.

On December 18, 1941, Luigi Durand de la Penne and five of his comrades were ahead of schedule. They stopped to eat figs and drink cognac, when, to their great fortune, they saw two British battleships and a British destroyer entering the harbor of Alex­andria, Egypt. These men were part of Italy’s elite frogman unit, the Decima Flottiglia MAS. They had launched from the Italian submarine Scirè, driving their two-man sea chariots toward the British fleet. These chariots were manned torpedoes, with a maximum speed of 3 knots, and so unwieldy and unreliable that their riders referred to them as maiali, or pigs. The frogmen used rebreathing units invented for spear fishers during interwar years to operate undetected under the surface of the water. From there, they could navigate their explosives around nets and set up other forms of protection for their ships. That night, these six men would dramatically alter the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

Leaving behind figs and cognac, de la Penne and his crewmate approached the HMS Valiant. Their equipment began to fail — this was the Italian navy, after all — with de la Penne’s wetsuit and mask letting in water. He swallowed it to clear his vision. After a mighty struggle with his pig, he managed to place the limpet mine on the keel of the Valiant. But almost immediately afterward, he and his partner had to surface for air. They were spotted and captured.

Refusing to talk, de la Penne was placed below deck, right above his charge. Ten minutes before it was set to explode, he alerted the captain that in a few minutes the Valiant would sink and all he could do was evacuate his men. De la Penne reached the deck unscathed after the bomb went off, and he witnessed similar mines exploding beneath the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the HMS Jervis, and the oil tanker Sagona.

Six men had disabled the bulk of the British fleet in the Mediterranean. The world wouldn’t discover it for months, since the ships sank in shallow water on flat bottoms. Winston Churchill would praise the ingenuity and courage of the Italian frogmen when he relayed the news in a secret session of Parliament. After the war, the captain of the Valiant, Admiral Charles Morgan, even lobbied for a British decoration for de la Penne.

How did the frogmen know that they were ahead of schedule? Or determine that there were ten minutes left before the explosion? They had another piece of equipment, issued to them by the Italian navy: a hulking, 47-millimeter, plexiglass-domed, submersible wristwatch. Its guts were made by Rolex, but the Italian watch firm Panerai modified the cases, soldered on wire lugs, and added a sandwich-style dial. The bottom half was a disk painted with glowing radioactive material; the top half was a black disk with cutouts to make the indices. This was the Panerai Radiomir.

And I really want to spend an exorbitant amount of money to get a watch that looks like the ones that de la Penne and his comrades wore.

Well, not exactly like it. The modern versions are no longer made with radium, so they don’t give their makers and wearers cancer. Also they have better components and much shinier and more polished cases than the originals. You get them not from military contractors but from luxury boutiques, where the staff wear white gloves to handle them and speak to you in hushed tones.

It makes no sense, really. Cheapo battery-powered watches keep better time than expensive modern Panerai. An even more accurate time is available on my smartphone. But you can’t get better advertising than de la Penne’s physical courage and sportsmanlike conduct in one of the most daring feats of World War II. He wore it. It’s cool. And I want one so bad.

RTWT


Luigi Durand de la Penne.

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