Tag: Military History

A Few Thoughts on Flag Day, ’22

 

On June 14th, 1777, after more than two years of war with Great Britain, and nearly a year after declaring independence, the Congress of the United States passed the Flag Resolution. It states:

[T]he flag of the thirteen United States (shall) be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

Love in Action: The Four Chaplains

 

four chaplains stampOn the bitter cold morning of February 3, 1943,  the passenger ship, S.S. Dorchester, was steaming in convoy nearing the frozen coast of Greenland. The 902 souls aboard depended on convoy procedure and three small Coast Guard cutters to protect them from the ravening wolf packs of U-boats, still dominating the North Atlantic. The servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilian workers were destined for a critical support base in Greenland, so were only 150 miles from safe harbor. It was then, in the pre-dawn darkness, that a torpedo slammed into the hull, deep below the waterline.

A diligent sonar operator on a sister ship, the Tampa, had alerted the convoy of suspicious sonar contact. Dorchester’s civilian captain had ordered everyone into life vests, but too many of the young men failed to act, lacking effective unit leadership. The U-boat surfaced and fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which struck home with devastating effect. We know of this from post-war records from the U-boat command. The ship, an old coastal steamer, was going down rapidly. The ship’s radio was knocked out, but one cutter saw the blast and came charging to the rescue with another, while the third shepherded the rest of the convoy to safe harbor.

The convoy had been short enough, or the civilian captain insufficiently steeped in the need for military emergency drills, that the crew and passengers were stumbling and panicky in their response. Life vests still needed to be handed out, and the limited lifeboats needed to be successfully lowered and filled. Into the chaos stepped four men, not one of them a combat officer. Indeed, they were all four junior Army chaplains, holding the military rank of lieutenant: Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed. The four men must have berthed together, as they suddenly acted as a unit.

Air Combat Over the Solomons

 

Bill Yenne has been writing aviation history for half a century. Sometimes groundbreaking, his books is always informative and entertaining

“America’s Few: Marine Aces of the South Pacific,” by Bill Yenne is his latest. It tells the story of the two dozen US Marine Corps aviators who achieved double digit ace status: ten or more kills.

All spent time in the South Pacific Theater in World War II, fighting in or from the Solomon Islands between October 1942 and May 1944. A few scored kills outside that period (including one who shot down two aircraft during the Korean War). All achieved double-ace status as a result of their exploits in the Solomons or over Rabaul.

The Filipino Struggle Against Japan

 

The United States suffered its biggest World War II defeat in the Philippines. More US soldiers were captured there than in any other campaign in United States military history. The number of Filipino soldiers surrendered dwarfed the US totals. Despite that, after the surrender of US forces, the war in the Philippines continued in a guerilla struggle.

“War and Resistance in the Philippines, 1942-1944,” by James Kelly Morningstar, documents that struggle. It is the first generally-accessible attempt to place the guerilla struggle in the Philippines in a single, coherent story.

Morningstar starts by describing the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the conventional struggle that followed. He shows the difficulties faced by Allied forces in the Philippines, both US and Filipino. He captures the tensions between the US and Philippine government. The Philippines were a reluctant colony of the United States, but on a path to independence when Japan invaded. The nascent Philippine Army was still forming and unprepared. US forces were underequipped, despite major commitments of aircraft.

What Military Professionals Talk About

 

In a 1979 interview Marine Corps General Robert Barrow stated “Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics. Professionals talk about logistics.” History has demonstrated its applicability many times.

“Logistics: The Key To Victory,” by Jeremy Black, is a study of the role logistics played in warfare throughout history. Most prior books on logistics focused on its tactical aspects – how to get supplies where they are needed. Black’s book examines the strategic role of logistics.

Black looks at logistics through a new lens. Often logistics is treated as if it emerged during the Napoleonic Era (the late 18th and early 19th centuries), and is relevant only thereafter. Black starts at the beginning, showing the importance of logistics as civilization emerged.  Black demonstrates the dominance of logistics in ancient times, can be captured in two words: campaign season. Ancient warfare was constrained by the availability of food and water, from Ancient Egypt onwards.

Battlefield Medicine from Ancient Egypt to Modern Afghanistan

 

Medic! That cry on the battlefield means a soldier is wounded. It also means someone will almost always respond, a normally-unarmed battlefield medic. This is the known and expected outcome of that call. But where did battlefield medicine start and how did evolve?

“Battlefield Medics: How Warfare Changed the History of Medicine,” by Martin King, tells that story. He starts at the origins of battlefield medicine and traces its progress through the present. He also shows its impact on all modern medicine.

The story starts in Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh’s armies had an organized medical service. The treatments of the day were limited to first aid, herbal medicine, and a lot of prayer. Surgery was rarely attempted. Dissection lay in the future.

Ten Rifle Companies

 

Today is the 246th Birthday of the United States Army. On June 14th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress passed the following:

“Resolved, That six companies of expert riflemen, be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia… [and] as soon as completed, shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.” (here)

McClellan, and Other Leaders Who Got It Wrong

 

Officers of the 69th Infantry New York, at Fort Corcoran, VA, with Col. Michael Corcoran. (Mathew Brady/NARA)

American history is replete with examples of military leaders making foolish and erroneous declarations.

Perhaps none did so more frequently and with such significant consequences than George B. McClellan, arguably the worst commander in U.S. military history, a man who never missed an opportunity to be wrong with a spectacular inability to recognize it.

Achieving Peace through Massive Superiority

 

Thomas S. Power, the Strategic Air Command’s leader in the late 1950s and early 1960s was easily caricatured. The ultimate bomber baron, he was routinely mocked as a warmonger. Dr. Strangelove’s General Buck Turgidson was a parody of Power. After retirement, to ease the path of the fighter mafia in taking control of the Air Force, its establishment tacitly supported criticism of Power.

“To Rule the Skies: General Thomas S. Power and the Rise of the Strategic Air Command in the Cold War,” by Brent D. Ziarnick is a new biography of Power. It provides a more balanced view of Power’s life and his contributions to the Strategic Air Command and to peace. In it Ziarnick overturns many conventional wisdom myths about Power.

Power came from an immigrant family in New York City. Ziarnick traces Power from these origins to his eventual rise to command. Power never attended college, and may not have graduated high school. He scrabbled his way into the Army Air Corps studying to be a flying cadet at night, working construction during the day.

Reading the Enemy’s Mail

 

One of the most storied commanders of World War II was German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.  A hero in his own country he was Britain’s most admired enemy during that war. He gained much of his reputation while commanding the Afrika Korps against the British in Egypt. Rommel claimed his success was due to his ability to think like his opposite number, putting himself inside the mind of his opponent. It turned out Rommel was not reading his enemy’s mind. He was reading his mail.

“War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East,” by Gershom Gorenberg, examines espionage and signal intelligence during the 1940-42 African campaigns.

Gorenberg takes a fresh look at World War II in Africa using previously unpublished memoirs and interviews of surviving participants (some made years ago, saved and archived) and recently declassified war records. Many records, especially those relating to wartime espionage and signal intelligence remained classified into the opening years of the twenty-first century.

Fighting On Despite Desperate Odds

 

Why do men fight, and why are willing they willing to continue to fight to the last man, preferring death to surrender? T. E. Lawrence’s said men go to war “because the women were watching.” According to Michael Walsh, in his new book, Lawrence’s answer holds more truth than irony. Men fight for their families.

“Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost,” by Michael Walsh, investigates the last man phenomena. It explores why men fight, and why they are willing to continue fighting even when they know they will lose.

Walsh examines history through the lens of combat, starting with the Ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae and continuing through the Marine retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in the Twentieth Century. In thirteen chapters he explores sixteen last-stand battles.  Some, including Thermopylae, Masada, and the Alamo, the defenders lost and dying almost to the last man. In others, like Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Pavlov’s House at Stalingrad, defenders triumphed against terrible odds.

The US Navy Faces Off Kamikazes at Okinawa

 

As the war turned against them in World War II, Japan tried a new tactic: the kamikaze. Pilots used their aircraft as one-way bombs against Allied warships and transports.  The campaign started during the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944 and continued until the last day of the war.

“Rain of Steel: Mitscher’s Task Force 58, Ukagi’s Thunder Gods and the Kamikaze War off Okinawa,” by Stephen L. Moore, examines the most intense phase of the kamikaze campaign, that fought during the Allied invasion of Okinawa.

Moore touches on the whole of the kamikaze effort. He looks at its origins, how the Japanese developed it, and their kamikaze attacks prior to and after the conquest of Okinawa. He also examines the US reaction to the campaign, including the tactics developed to counter the kamikazes. The meat of the book is the fighting off Okinawa, however.

A War Easier to Start than End

 

Professor Paul Rahe, of Hillsdale College, is writing a multi-volume study of Sparta’s grand strategy during the Fifth Century BC. The first book “The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge” looked at Sparta during the Persian War.

“Sparta’s Second Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 446-418 B. C,” by Paul A. Rahe continues his study of the Peloponnesian Wars. The third volume in the series, it examines the second phase of the war between Sparta and Athens, fought between 431 and 421 BC.

The book picks up where his previous volume, Sparta’s First Attic War leaves off, in 446 BC. It covers more than the active phases of the war. Rahe examines the build-up to the active war and its immediate aftermath, including Sparta’s victorious war with Argos and her allies in 418 BC.

A Navigator’s Account of SAC

 

Between 1946 and 1992 the Strategic Air Command was the United States’s main shield against Soviet aggression. Its bombers flew constantly, fueling aloft to reach any point in the world.

“SAC Time: A Navigator in the Strategic Air Command,” by Thomas E. Alexander, is the memoir of a man who spent three years in the Strategic Air Command and thirteen years in the Air National Guard.

Alexander served the Strategic Air Command as a junior officer.  He was a navigator, not a pilot. Rated a bombardier, navigator, and radar bombardier, he did not crew SAC’s jet glamorous bombers. He navigated KC-97 Stratotankers, a piston-engine aircraft that refueled other aircraft. The book may be the more interesting because of this perspective.

The United States in a Perilous Year

 

The United States is going through some hard times right now. Some might believe 2020 to be the most challenging year faced by the Republic. The oldest among us remember a year far worse than 2020 or even the 1960s.

“The Year of Peril: America in 1942,” by Tracy Campbell, recalls that year. The United States had been unexpectedly thrust into a war, one we appeared to be losing in 1942.

Campbell takes readers through that year. He reveals the fear stalking the American public, especially early in 1942. People expected the attack on Pearl Harbor to be followed up by a Japanese invasion of the American homeland. Air raids by long-range German bombers were also expected.

On Independence Day, when so much seems to be going wrong, perhaps we need to take a step back, share a laugh, and then focus some attention on those whose dedication makes this and every Independence Day possible. This episode meets both of those needs as Dave sits down with comedian David Deeble to bring the blood pressure down a bit by looking at the lighter side of life. Everything is fair game, from rioters toppling garden gnomes, to the proper placement of deer crossing signs in this freewheeling and fun exchange.

Then, Dave talks with new Ricochet Member Nick Plosser, who has started his own podcast called The Half Percent. The podcast provides a needed outlet and opportunity for active duty military, veterans, guard and reserve troops to tell their story, share their experiences, and bring you into the world of that half percent of Americans who are serving their country in uniform at any given time. Nick is an inspiring gentleman, and has even persuaded Dave to be a guest on an upcoming episode of his podcast (we understand there will be humor and bourbon involved, though we’re not sure which comes first). If you’re looking for reasons to celebrate Independence Day, this episode will do the trick.

A New Look at a Global Conflict

 

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was the world’s first truly global conflict. Although the Seven Years’ War and Wars of American Independence were fought globally, the round of fighting triggered by the French Revolution saw major campaigns on a wider geographic scale than seen previously or since. No war, including World War II saw major fighting in as many different continents.

“The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History,” by Alexander Mikaberidze examines the conflict from a global perspective.

Mikaberidze links all of the different wars fought between 1792 and 1815 into a greater global whole. It reveals answers to puzzles that seem inexplicable when focusing just on the wars directly involving France.

Member Post

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review ‘Over There in the Air’ examines the relationship between Aggies and […]

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This Week’s Book Review: Heavy Date over Germany

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Heavy Date’ offers a look at war through a young man’s eyes

By MARK LARDAS