Category Archive 'WWII'
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.

07 Dec 2018

Pearl Harbor Day

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From “The Pearl Harbor Myth” by Alan D. Zimm:

As a wave of shock surged from Pearl Harbor’s burning waters, the nation stood in awe of the destruction wrought by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “The incredulousness of it all still gives each new announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack the unreality of a fairy tale,” a young naval aviator stationed in Virginia wrote just hours after the attack. “How could they have been so mad?… If the reports I’ve heard today are true, the Japanese have performed the impossible, have carried out one of the most daring and successful raids in all history.… The whole thing was brilliant.”

In just 90 minutes, the Japanese had inflicted a devastating blow: five battleships were sunk, three battleships, three cruisers, and three destroyers were damaged, and nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed. The most devastating loss was the 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 wounded. Michael Slackman, a consulting historian to the U.S. Navy, described the attack as “almost textbook perfect” in his book Target: Pearl Harbor (1990). Gordon Prange, the battle’s leading historian, judged it “brilliantly conceived and meticulously planned.” Another prominent historian, Robert L. O’Connell, author of Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy (1995), likened it to the perfection of a “flashing samurai sword.” Even the recorded narration on a Pearl Harbor tour boat says the attack was “brilliantly conceived and executed.”

Yet a detailed examination of the preparation and execution of the attack on the Pacific Fleet reveals a much different story. Even after 10 months of arduous planning, rehearsal, and intelligence gathering, the attack was plagued by inflexibility, a lack of coordination, and misallocated resources. A plan for a likely contingency was cobbled together by three midgrade officers while en route to Hawaii. The attack itself suffered significant command blunders. Though armed with enough firepower to destroy up to 14 battleships and aircraft carriers, the Japanese landed killing hits on only three battleships; luck, combined with American damage control mistakes, added two more battleships to their tally. Not only was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor far from brilliant, it also narrowly avoided disaster.

RTWT

28 Oct 2018

Peaceful Coexistence on Bougainville During WWII


US Army personnel playing baseball on Bougainville.

Some good stories from Werner Hermann on Quora:

During the Pacific war on the islands of Bougainville in the South Pacific, American and Japanese forces clashed with each other. The American invasion of the island was intended to be a mop-up operation to eliminate Japanese forces stationed there. Thanks to American air and naval superiority that made possible the island-hopping strategy, the operation on Bougainville was of little strategic value.

Consequently, in a bizarre and little known turn of event, neither side had any incentive to seek confrontation against each other, because the Japanese could not win and the Americans no longer needed to fight for total control of the island, the armies of both sides settled into a pattern of co-existence. This was when some strange and funny events occurred.

For example, in the 37th Division area, one infantryman recalled that at a company baseball game:
Someone noticed a raggedy-assed Jap way out in the shadows of the jungle off right field watching a game…. He came back for other games and was soon a rather regular fan… The 37th GIs figured “he can’t be all bad”; besides, he somehow managed to root for 37th teams, showing his approval of hits and runs for the home team!

In another event, a Japanese soldier infiltrated the US camp to watch movies. When a captured Japanese film showed the sinking of the USS Lexington, he gave himself away:

There suddenly came shouts of “Banzai! Banzai!” from the tangled but huge branches of a banyan tree on a near side of the row of seats… [he] was overcome with patriotism at the sight of his comrades in the air force sending an enemy ship to the bottom! He was pulled from the tree … Perhaps the last victim of the carrier Lexington.

ROTFLOL. Poor fellow. That guy should have known better to keep quiet when inside enemy-held territory. He could have saved himself.

01 Oct 2018

1LT Waverly Wray and his Garand Rifle

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1st Lt. Waverly Wray, 82nd Airborne.

Guns America pays tribute to an American hero.

1LT Waverly Wray was born in 1919 and raised in the wooded hills around Batesville, Mississippi, perhaps a forty-five minute drive from where I sit typing these words. An expert woodsman steeped in fieldcraft from his youth, Wray was described by his commander, LTC Ben Vandervoort, thusly, “As experienced and skilled as an Infantry soldier can get and still be alive.” At 250 pounds Wray was an intimidating specimen, yet he was also a committed Christian man of character. He fastidiously eschewed profanity and sent half of his Army paycheck home each month to help build a church in his hometown.

Immediately after jumping into Normandy with the 82d Airborne, 1LT Wray set out on a one-man reconnaissance at the behest of his Battalion Commander. Wray’s mission was to assess the state of German forces planning a counterattack against the weakly held American positions outside Ste.-Mere-Eglise. Wray struck out armed with his M1 rifle, a Colt 1911A1 .45, half a dozen grenades, and a silver-plated .38 revolver tucked into his jump boot. Hearing German voices on the other side of a French hedgerow, Wray burst through the brush and shouted, “Hande Hoch!” Confronting him were eight German officers huddled around a radio.

For a pregnant moment, nobody moved. Then seven pairs of hands went up. The eighth German officer reached for his sidearm. 1LT Wray shot the man between the eyes with his M1.

A pair of German soldiers about 100 meters away opened up on Wray with MP40 submachine guns. 9mm bullets cut through his combat jacket and shot away one of his earlobes. All the while Wray methodically engaged each of the seven remaining Germans as they struggled to escape, reloading his M1 when it ran dry. Once he had killed all eight German officers he dropped into a nearby ditch, took careful aim, and killed the two distant Wehrmacht soldiers with the MP40’s.

Wray fought his way back to his company area to report what he had found, blood soaking his ventilated jump jacket. His first question was to ask where he could replenish his supply of grenades. When American forces eventually took the field where Wray had waged his one-man war against the leadership of the 1st Battalion, 158th Grenadier Regiment, they found all ten German soldiers dead with a single round each to the head. Wray had completely decapitated the enemy battalion’s leadership singlehandedly. Wray stopped what he was doing and saw to it that all ten German soldiers were properly buried. He had killed these men, and he felt a responsibility to bury them properly.

Waverly Wray survived the savage fighting in Normandy only to give his life for his country at Nijmegen, Holland, during Operation Market Garden later in the year. He has a granite marker in Shiloh Cemetery in Batesville, Mississippi, near the church he helped build. 1LT Wray was, by all accounts, an exceptionally good man who died six days before his twenty-fifth birthday.

RTWT

16 Sep 2018

Would You Surrender to the Germans?

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02 Sep 2018

P-38 Lightning Critiqued

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Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

On Quora, somebody asked “Why was the P-38 never used in the European theater against the Germans?” and the reply from Nick O’Dell was particularly entertaining.

A survey of Stateside training bases in 1941 showed that 87 percent of prospective pilots requested to be assigned to the big, sleek, twin-engine Lockheed Lightning. “We were in awe of the P-38,” said future ace Jack Ilfrey. “It looked like a beautiful monster.” “If you were a boy in America, you wanted to fly it,” said another future ace, Winton “Bones” Marshall. “If you played with Dinky metal toys and balsa wood airplane models, you wanted to fly it.” On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the P-38 captured the imagination of young Americans like no other fighter. Eighth Air Force commander Lt. Gen. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle would later call the P-38 “the sweetest-flying plane in the sky.”

With tricycle gear, twin booms and a centerline fuselage pod brimming with guns, the P-38 was powered by two 1,600-hp Allison V-1710-111/113 liquid-cooled engines driving three-bladed, 9-foot Curtiss Electric propellers. Although a fully loaded Lightning weighed more than 10 tons—nearly twice as much as a P-51 Mustang—a skilled pilot could fling the P-38 around like a lightweight. The problem was that while American pilots were generally well trained, they weren’t well trained for a complex twin-engine fighter. …

The P-38 performed usefully but suffered from a number of problems. Its Allison engines consistently threw rods, swallowed valves and fouled plugs, while their intercoolers often ruptured under sustained high boost and turbocharger regulators froze, sometimes causing catastrophic failures.
Arrival of the newer P-38J to fill in behind the P-38H was supposed to help, but did not help enough. The J model’s enlarged radiators were trouble-prone. Improperly blended British fuel exacerbated the problems: Anti-knock lead compounds literally seethed out and became separated in the Allison’s induction system at extreme low temperatures. This could cause detonation and rapid engine failure, especially at the high power settings demanded for combat.

The P-38’s General Electric turbo-supercharger sometimes got stuck in over-boosted or under-boosted mode. This occurred mainly when the fighter was flown in the freezing cold at altitudes approaching 30,000 feet, which was the standard situation in the European air war. Another difficulty was that early P-38 versions had only one generator, and losing the associated engine meant the pilot had to rely on battery power.

In an article on Air Power Australia, Carlo Kopp noted that in their early days in the European theater, “Many of the P-38s assigned to escort missions were forced to abort and return to base. Most of the aborts were related to engines coming apart in flight….[due to] intercoolers that chilled the fuel/air mixture too much. Radiators that lowered engine temps below normal operating minimums. Oil coolers that could congeal the oil to sludge. These problems could have been fixed at the squadron level. Yet, they were not.” …

The arrival of the improved P-38J-25 and P-38L models, modified on the production line based on lessons learned in Europe, helped, but problems remained. Lightning pilot 2nd Lt. Jim Kunkle of the 370th Fighter Group remembered: “The critical problem with us was we didn’t have much heat in the cockpit. On high altitude missions it was very cold. And we didn’t have the engine in front of us to help keep us warm. Bomber guys had those heated blue union suits that they wore but we tried heated clothing and it didn’t work for us.”

The only source of heat in the cockpit was warm air ducted from the engines, and it was little help. Lightning pilots suffered terribly. “Their hands and feet became numb with cold and in some instances frost-bitten; not infrequently a pilot was so weakened by conditions that he had to be assisted out of the cockpit upon return,” wrote Freeman.

Major General William Kepner, the fiery commanding general of VIII Fighter Command, wondered, as so many others did, why the P-38 wasn’t producing the results everyone wanted, and what to do about it. Asked to provide a written report, 20th Fighter Group commander Colonel Harold J. Rau did so reluctantly and only because he was ordered to.

“After flying the P-38 for a little over one hundred hours on combat missions it is my belief that the airplane, as it stands now, is too complicated for the ‘average’ pilot,” wrote Rau. “I want to put strong emphasis on the word ‘average,’ taking full consideration just how little combat training our pilots have before going on operational status.”

Rau wrote that he was being asked to put kids fresh from flight school into P-38 cockpits and it wasn’t working. He asked his boss to imagine “a pilot fresh out of flying school with about a total of twenty-five hours in a P-38, starting out on a combat mission.” Rau’s young pilot was on “auto lean and running on external tanks. His gun heater is off to relieve the load on his generator, which frequently gives out (under sustained heavy load). His sight is off to save burning out the bulb. His combat switch may or may not be on.” So, flying along in this condition, wrote Rau, the kid suddenly gets bounced by German fighters. Now he wonders what to do next.

“He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main [fuel tank],” Rau wrote. “So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches (valves) to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich (two separate and clumsy operations), increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch (which he must feel for and cannot possibly see), turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.” To future generations this would be called multi-tasking, and it was not what you wanted to be doing when Luftwaffe fighters were pouring down on you.

“At this point, he has probably been shot down,” Rau noted, “or he has done one of several things wrong. Most common error is to push the throttles wide open before increasing RPM. This causes detonation and subsequent engine failure. Or, he forgets to switch back to auto rich, and gets excessive cylinder head temperature with subsequent engine failure.”

28 May 2018

My Father’s War

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WGZInduction1942
My father (on the left, wearing jacket & tie, holding the large envelope), aged 26, was the oldest in this group of Marine Corps volunteers from Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, September 1942, so he was put in charge.

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William G. Zincavage, Fall 1942, after graduating Marine Corps Boot Camp

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WGZBillyClub
Military Police, North Carolina, Fall 1942
He was only 5′ 6″, but he was so tough that they made him an MP.

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3rdDivision
Third Marine Division

1stAmphibiousCorps
I Marine Amphibious Corps

First Amphibious Corps, Third Marine Division, Special Troops:
Solomon Islands Consolidation (Guadalcanal), Winter-Spring 1943
New Georgia Group Operation (Vella LaVella, Rendova), Summer 1943
“The Special Troops drew the first blood.” — Third Divisional History.

“We never saw them but they were running away.” — William G. Zincavage

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3rdAmphibious-Corps
III Marine Amphibious Corps

Third Amphibious Corps, Third Marine Division, Special Troops:
Marianas Operation (Guam), Summer 1944

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5thAmphibious-Corps
V Marine Amphibious Corps

Fifth Amphibious Corps, Third Marine Division, Special Troops:
Iwo Jima Operation, February-March 1945

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Navy Unit Commendation (Iwo Jima)
Good Conduct Medal
North American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Four Bronze Stars

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While recovering from malaria after the Battle of Iwo Jima, he looked 70 years old.

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But he was back to normal in December of 1945, when this photo was taken shortly before he received his discharge.

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