Thursday, April 30, 2015

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Sunset, 29 April 2015
Late on Tuesday I put up a post. Really it was a title, a painting and a brief sentence of only three words.

"Just a thought..."

I woke up Wednesday morning, somewhat horrified at what I had posted.

That's just not me, not really.

The painting was of The Whiff of Grapeshot by F. de Myrbach, an Austrian painter. The painting purports to show a brief vignette at the disturbance in Paris known as the 13 Vendémiaire. Some histories call it a battle, some call it a series of riots. People died and the disturbance was eventually put down by troops under a fellow by the name of Bonaparte.

The title of that post was "Leur donner une bouffée de mitraille...," a not so vague allusion to the recent events in a couple of American cities.

Why was I horrified?

It was an over-reaction on my part. The citizens of the city which has experienced the most recent troubles seem to be making a big effort to calm tensions in that benighted place on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.

That post wasn't seen by many, fortunately, as it did not reflect my real feelings. It was an emotional reaction to current events. Which is why I generally try to avoid such things here on the blog.

I'm not apologizing, just letting everyone who saw the post know what happened to it.

No one complained. No one, as far as I could tell, was offended.

Besides which, Wednesday was far too pretty a day to be angry about anything.

The sound of the waterfall is soothing...

The fish are fat and happy, glad that Spring is here...

Under The Missus Herself's tender care, the garden is coming alive...

Anya is content to chill out with her Pop (that would be Yours Truly)...

And soon the cherry blossoms will be in full flower...

Things might get better, they might get worse or they might just stay the same.

Who knows?

I am no philosopher, I'll leave that to the Pythons...

Which serves as introduction to... A BONUS VIDEO!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Window

Sasha has the Watch
As the sun begins to settle towards the western horizon, I listen to the birds singing outside my window. I turn in that direction and one of the house felines, Sasha, has crept in and taken position on the window sill, watching the world from her high perch.

Her world is simple. She spends her day tending to her humans, sleeping, eating and gazing out the window. Chasing that fleeting patch of sunlight as it traces its way across the dining room floor.

I remember days like that when I was a child. Before the demands of school and study, before the demands of work and responsibility. I too would find a patch of sunlight within which to relax and contemplate existence.

There are days I wish I could return to such bliss. No worries, no cares, simply to exist within the cocoon of my parents' love.

But those days are long gone.

Now the world is a sour place. People shouting their beliefs and their hatreds to all who would listen.

People rioting in the streets and destroying their own neighborhoods.

There are people in this world who will kill others simply because they think differently. Simply because they believe differently.

It has always been this way, since the day Cain slew Abel.

Jealousy, hatred, rivalry. We seem to be a flawed species, a species given such wonderful gifts only to squander them for base pleasures and concerns.

Leaders who will not lead.

A news media who lie and spread rumor as fact, pushing an agenda, not informing us but attempting to bend us to someone else's will. Most are no better than propaganda bureaus, all done in the name of some "cause."

People who will not seek to better the human condition but will only ask "What's in it for me?"

There are days I despair and wonder what is to become of the world.

I'm sure there were those two thousand years ago who asked the same question.

There is no real answer that I know of.

So I gaze out the window and wonder. I listen to the birds. I watch the sun go down.

I do what needs to be done. I work, I contribute.

It's all I can do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday Trivia!

Today's trivia is a mainly a history quiz, so I hope you were paying attention back in High School.  Actually, I doubt any of this was taught in class, unless you went to the best high school ever! But it's interesting and good-to-know info for all-hands nevertheless.  Now for those of you interested in technicalities, I’m not.  Several of the questions below deal with history around the time of our country’s founding. Whether they were officially the United States of America at the specific time involved in the question, or just the colonies, that isn’t important to the answer- I'm not going to make any real distinction here today.   And none of these are supposed to be trick questions. 

1. What was the Purple Heart originally called?  Hint- If you have one, look on the back.

2. What criteria was added as the most recent qualification for the Purple Heart?

3. What was the original name of the US Coast Guard?  Hint- What are the only thing in life that are certain?  

4. Who was the first Officer to be awarded the rank "General of the Armies", the highest rank ever in the US Army.  I’ll give you 21 guesses.

5. And how did he get his nickname?

6. How many uniformed services in the US and what are they?

7. True or false, the USMC was formed in the capital of the United States.

8. True or False U.S. Grant “outranked” George Washington.

9. Who was the first General to wear five stars?

US Army
10. What rank did Dwight Eisenhower hold when World War II broke out?

11. Who said: 'The military don't start wars. Politicians start wars.'?   Possibly a tough one so I’ll give you a hint- politics doesn’t help you win.

12. During the Normandy Invasion of 1944, Operation Neptune was the code name given to what mission?
       a. The plan to land airborne troops into France to disrupt German lines
       b. The night infiltration of frogmen divers to the beach by allied submarines
       c. The movement of troops ashore by landing craft
       d. The feint of Amphibious forces towards Calais to deceive German forces.

13. George Washington was our first General in 1775, but when was the first Admiral appointed?

14. Who was the first person to hold the title of Admiral of the United States Navy?

15. How many Marine Corps Pilots are members of the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team?

16. How many officers are on the Blue Angels?
17. When was the first Marine pilot named to the team?

18. What sort of fuel mileage does the USS NIMITZ get?

19. True or False.  The first US Navy ship was named for a woman.  Whether that's true or false, what was the first US Navy ship named for a woman?

20.   What was the first ship named for an Enlisted MOH awardee for heroism not during WWII?

CBS News

21.  What base holds the distinction of being the oldest active military base in the U.S.?


1. The Badge of Military Merit. It was created by George Washington for extraordinary valor.

2. Injury or death due to Terrorism – A qualification added by President Reagan.

3. The US Revenue Cutter Service.

4. General "Black Jack" John Pershing.

5. Because of his work with the 10th Cavalry of the US Army, which had black and white soldiers fight alongside each other.

6. There are seven-  the four DoD Services, The US Revenue Cutter Service Coast Guard, NOAA, and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

7. True- it was formed in Tun Tavern in Philadelphia on Nov 10th 1775, which was the US Capital at the time.

8. True, Grant wore 4 starts a “General of the Army of the United States,” and became the first full General in rank and grade by Congressional Act in July 1866. GW was commissioned by the Continental Congress with a rank of Lieutenant General wearing epaulets with three silver stars and the title of “General and Commander in Chief of the Army of the United Colonies."

9.  It was George C. Marshall who was the first authorized to wear five stars. Marshall was promoted first, followed by MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Henry H. Arnold. Omar N. Bradley was the last to be promoted to that rank in 1950.

10. Lt. Colonel. Eisenhower was quickly promoted throughout the course of the war, but in 1939 he was a relatively junior officer when hostilities broke out in Europe.

11. Gen. William Westmoreland- commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 until 1968.

12. The answer is both b and c. Neptune threw you off didn't it?

13. Not until 1862

14. David Farragut was one of 9 Rear Admirals approved for the rank in 1862. Two years later he was appointed Vice Admiral, and appointed to the rank of Admiral in 1866 by the President. John Paul Jones had argued for more senior officer rankings above Captain but Congress would not listen.

15. Four - One flies in the #2 position (Right Wing) as a Demonstration Pilot and three fly the C-130.

16. 16- 6 F-18 Demonstration Pilots, 3 C-130 Pilots, 1 Narrator (NFO), 1 Events Coordinator (Pilot, usually next year’s demo ), a Public Affairs Officer, The MO, and Admin Officer (LDO), Flight Doc, and a Suppo.

17. USMC Capt Chuck Hiett, joined the team as the first Marine pilot in the winter of 1954.  He's #5 (2nd from right)

18. 26 years to the tank. It was 26 years from she was first launched to her refueling 

19. True.  The USS Hannah, a schooner was commissioned in 1775 followed by the gunboat Lady Washington in 1776- built by NY State. “Hannah was the first armed American naval vessel of the American Revolution and is claimed to be the founding vessel of the United States Navy. She was owned by John Glover's in-laws of Marblehead, Massachusetts and was named for his wife, Hannah Glover. “ Wiki

20. The first American KIA during The Great War was Gunner's Mate First Class Osmond K. Ingram. “He was serving aboard the destroyer USS Cassin (DD 43) when he was blown overboard by a German torpedo. For his heroic deeds, Ingram was later awarded the Medal of Honor...” That ship was FFG-61 which was just decommissioned last November. 
Miller, The Sullivans, Cole, Benfold, Stetham, McFaul, Oscar Austin, Reuben James, John Basilone are other (but not all) ships named for Enlisted men.
21. The oldest military base in the US is West Point, but as an academy, it could be considered to be not an active base.  Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania therefore takes the honor.  The Washington Navy Yard is the oldest Navy base.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Formation School

According to FAA Order 8700.1 Ops Inspection Handbook Chapter 49 Section 5D, "Civil pilots who wish to conduct nonaerobatic formation flybys in the air show display area for an air show must possess a current and valid industry formation training and evaluation credential that is acceptable to AFS‑800."

When you run that statement through Google Translate (selecting Bureaucratese in the from section and Fighter Pilot in the to section) it says:  If you're going to fly in formation at an airshow, you've got to have done that recently so that you don't 1) bust your butt and 2) hurt someone on the ground and 3) this currency will cost you money beyond fuel and maintenance.

So,  There I was...* making my way to church this morning, slightly after dawn.  Since Mrs. Juvat's vehicular mode of transportation has just been returned  after a kamikaze strike by a deer on Palm Sunday, I am actively searching the various attack vectors.  As I pass the end of the runway of the local airport, I cast a quick glance at the apron.  It is full.

This being a tourist town, the ramp being full on the weekend is not unusual, but being full of AT-6 Texans captures my attention.  This happens a couple of times a year for the aforementioned Formation School.  I mention to my spouse that formation school is going on.  She reminds me to resume my visual scan as there are deer out there.  Lurking.  

Church over, I decide to drive by and see what's out there as I can see at least one aircraft will appeal to the Navy readers herein.  It's wings were folded. The wife, being the nice person she is decides to humor me and so we stop in.  There were 16 AT-6s on the ramp, bedecked in a very wide array of paint schemes.  

Given the design of the hotel and restaurant as well as the searchlight and watertower, one could be forgiven for believing they'd travelled back in time to a WWII training base.

The hotel is the furthest building.  The diner is partially obscured by the prop blade 

As an aside, when Formation School is scheduled, we try to stop in at the Hotel Bar (it's named the Officer's Club) and watch the pilots (mostly old guys) play Crud.  It's humorous.

Anyhow, that was my one allotted digression.  The AT-6s were pretty cool, but the real joys were on the other end of the ramp.

First there was this.

I had seen this one before and talked to the owner.  I didn't see him this time, but IIRC this is one of two flying Wildcats in existence (there may be more than that, but the number can probably be counted on one hand).  I asked him how it flew and he surprised me by saying it turned excellently and could sustain the turn well.  The other thing of interest was the only hydraulic system on board was for the brakes.  Flaps were vacuum activated and the gear is hand cranked.

Parked just beyond the Wildcat was the belle of the ball as far as I was concerned.
A beautiful aircraft on any day, this one is very well maintained.

The BN number and paint scheme replicate that of the aircraft flown by Lt Thomas Hudner during the Korean War.  Lt Hudner's flight lead had taken a hit from AAA near the Chosin Reservoir and crash landed.  His flight lead, Ensign Jesse Brown was trapped in the aircraft by the crash.  Lt Hudner crash landed his Corsair beside Ensign Brown and attempted to extract him from the aircraft which was on fire.  Ultimately unsuccessful because the Ensign died from his injuries, Hudner was rescued by helocopter and returned to the USS Leyte (CV-32).  For his actions, Lt Hudner received the Medal of Honor, the first awarded during the Korean War.  Source

Reluctantly leaving the Corsair, I turned to view the next aircraft in line.  
Mrs Juvat liked this aircraft because of the Flying Tiger!
This P-40N served in the RCAF during the War.  It was restored and painted with the markings of Tex Hill's aircraft from the Flying Tiger days.  He passed away in 2007 in San Antonio and at the 2008 Lackland Open House, they had a Memorial Flyover in his honor, with an F-22, F-15, F-16 and this aircraft. Source

The Flying Tiger
The next two aircraft were also favorites of mine.

A P-51D named "Buzzin Cuzzin".  This one intrigues me.  As I did a little research on the USAAF tail number, Google led me to this website.  The P-51 this one is painted to represent was flown out of Duxford England, by then Lt William Spengler.  
Bill Spengler (center), pilot of P-51 Buzzin' Cuzzin, crew chief Staff Sergeant Deltner D Suess (Left) and armorer Cpl. Vernon C Nelson (Right).
Photo courtesy of American Air

Not recognizing that name, I went back to Google and asked them.  Found a very interesting and useful website for those of us interested in WWII Air War.  (Sarge, you listening?)

The site is the American Air Museum in Britain.  It is run by the Imperial War Museum which is a fantastic Museum in and of itself.  This website allows you to search their database by entering names of American Airmen who flew in WWII from England.  I found a short blurb about Lt Spengler there and it was refreshing with the ordinariness of the blurb.  It describes his getting a couple of probables in a couple of missions.  Certainly, nothing to be ashamed about, but it wasn't Fighter Ace either.  I thought it admirable that the Museum would gather the story of an ordinary person who fought in the war.  The Nimitz does that also, but I'm glad there is more than one place that does. Using the site's mapping function, I found a couple of folks in the local area  who flew bombers in the war, one of whom was shot down and evaded.  (There were no details available other than that he evaded.  If I find him I'll ask.)

The final aircraft on parade today was another P-51D.
I recognized the name immediately as I'm sure many of you will.

For those who don't, here's another clue.
Again, this wasn't his actual aircraft, merely one painted to represent his.  While General Yeager gained his fame by flying very fast, it's important to remember that he'd served in combat in Europe first.  

The AT-6s buzzed my house all day Saturday and made a couple of passes after I left the airport this morning.  I did see the Corsair depart although he didn't get close enough to my place to take a decent picture.  But the sound of his engine stayed around for a very long time after he disappeared from view.  

Never did see or hear the Mustangs depart, but they weren't on the ramp when I went into town this afternoon.
One last one for Murph

Sunday, April 26, 2015


The Newest Member of the Tribe
Over the past week, The WSO has been keeping us updated on this new pup which a friend of hers found wandering. Starved and scared she was.

Well, no more.

She's just a puppy but son-in-law Big Time fell head over heels for her, just as The WSO herself did. Now Little Bit was a bit shy at first. She's used to dogs, her grandparents in Michigan have Big Time's first dog, Regal and Auntie Nuke and The Sea Lawyer have two dogs, Bear and Kodi. So she's been around dogs but never a puppy.

Seems they have bonded nicely as it was Little Bit who gave Aurora her name.

So happy news there. Can't wait to meet my new grand-dog!

On the home front this weekend was the annual cleaning of the koi pond. Always a "treat."

Do you know what the bottom of a koi pond smells like after a long winter? Ever been around the tidal flats at low tide? Kind of the same.

Now the fish themselves go dormant over the winter months, they don't eat and they apparently sleep. A lot.

As we can't run the filter pump over the winter, it would freeze, the water gets a bit prehistoric by spring. So we pump out the old water and replace it with new.

Besides the fish having nice clean water to swim in, I get to hear my waterfall again!

During the summer, it's really pleasant to hear that in the night.

Truly spring is here!

Some random shots of the pond cleaning evolution...

The big speckled fish goes by "Leo" (as in leopard, due to the spots, okay, I'm not that clever!)
The fish are back in their home after spending a couple of hours in a holding tank. (No, they didn't get to call their lawyer.)
You can also see that our bridge has a corrosion problem. Probably time for a new bridge.
The really big koi, the gold one, we call "Goldie" (duh). When The Missus Herself bought that fish, she was about three inches long.
Now she's a whale!
That pot contains water lilies, they will cover most of the surface by July, giving the fish cover and a nice place to hang out.

No yard work is complete until the master quaffs a beer. As she didn't want one, I drank it.

Okay, it's not Halloween. But I love my pumpkin ale!

Oh yeah, one more thing. I'm starting a gladiator school. (Just kidding!)

The Old Air Force Retiarius
(Have net and trident will travel.)

I texted that last shot to the progeny. The WSO came back with "Have you guys been drinking?"

My answer, "No, no, no. Well, yes. But only a little..."

It was a good day!

Little Rhody in the Spring.
(See the airliner inbound to T.F.Green. See that Sarge needs a better camera.)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Yard

"Mowing the Lawn-Half-Cut" by Halley from Boston - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - (Source
The ceremonial first cutting of the grass has come.

And gone.

It was not as it once was.

This time, I did not participate...


It was last weekend, Saturday, though it might have been Friday. Every other weekend is a three-day weekend. I know that sounds good, but there's a price to pay for such luxury and...

Yes, I digress.

I was gazing out the front door at my vast holdings front lawn, noting that it was getting all green and in need of cutting. I realized that soon, but hold thought one moment. What is yon scrap of paper wedged in front door?

Retrieving the paper and unfolding it as if I had found the Dead Sea scrolls themselves, I read the inscription thereon...
For help with lawn mowing, raking leaves, snow shoveling,and other yard work call...
I read the words and noted the price of such services, cheap and well within my means. So I showed the parchment to The Missus Herself...

And she said, "We should call this guy, have him come give us an estimate."

I gazed in wonder at m'lady, surely she was not ready to release me from being shackled to the mower every weekend, toiling in the hot sun and...

"It would be worth the money to not have to listen to you whine about cutting the grass every weekend." She said, finishing her thought.

Was I offended by her characterization of my valid complaints and concerns as "whining"? No, not at all, 'tis a matter of perspective I reckon. My concerns with having to spend time of a weekend in anything other than idle leisure may indeed sound like "whining" to one who has never been slave to the Lawn-Boy or the Briggs & Stratton as I have been since my youth.

To be released from such bondage was something I had dreamt of since our days of apartment dwelling where the minions of the land lord took care of the yard work. Now I could return to loftier purpose, such as crafting stories to entertain you here. Perhaps reading some ancient tome of historical deeds.

Or simply drinking beer and watching a ball game.

To each his own.

So now we have a guy who cuts our grass. It does not cost me that much and provides the young lad with employment and a bit of pocket money. It is something of a win-win-win.

He gets money to do the job I no longer have to deal with, freeing my time for other things.

And of course, The Missus Herself no longer has to listen to Yours Truly "whine" about mowing the lawn.

Today, I surveyed the freshly cut grass. Trim and well-kept and (most importantly) completed in time for the weekend. It was good to know that I would not be the one chasing the lawn mower all summer.

Then again, am I getting too old for this sort of thing? While I have never loved mowing the lawn, I have never hated it either. Is this a sign of advancing decrepitude that I must hire someone to maintain my yard?

Why have a yard at all?

Well, we need something to surround all those flower beds.

Did any of you know that Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about grass? A pretty good one too, says I. What say you?

by Carl Sandburg
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?
                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.

Friday, April 24, 2015

April Morning

"Grave marker of British Soldiers along Battle Road in Lexington" by Nemilar (Public Domain)
There had been excitement all night. Riders passing along the road to Concord, the older men gathering in the early morning darkness outside the tavern.

The lobsterbacks were on the road. What evil is afoot on this spring morn?

Gathering on the village green, the militia nervously shifted from one foot to another. Was the King intent on making war on the colonists? What insanity is this?

Captain Parker tried to steady the men as the sound of the British drums could now be heard approaching from Menotomy.

As the red-coated infantry came into view, the men grew silent. There was many a white knuckle to be seen gripping a musket. One man groaned. Expressing perhaps what many, if not most of them were feeling.

How could a rag-tag band such as this, who drilled no more than once a month, sometimes less, stand up to the finest army on the planet? But not one man looked to the rear. All faced front and stood ready. Perhaps reason might still hold sway. Surely the lobsterbacks would not fire upon fellow Englishmen?

That was a scene from the film April Morning (IMDB), which I first watched while attending an Air Force school in Mississippi. The film, last I checked, was available on Netflix.

While there are perhaps too many leaves on the trees for a mid-April day near Boston, the scene is exactly as I imagined it when I was a young boy.

Growing up in New England, in a day when America history was proudly taught in our schools and was something to treasure, every boy knew the story of the British march on Concord to seize powder and shot from "the Colonials." We all knew of the valiant, yet futile, stand of those militiamen on Lexington Green.

As the British march onto the field, the sound of the drums, the commands of the officers and sergeants stand in stark contrast to the nervously waiting militia.

As the British deploy from march column into line, the militia must have recognized that these were not your everyday, run of the mill British soldiers. No, these were all picked men from the flank companies of the regiments quartered in Boston.

Grenadiers, fusiliers and light infantry were all present, wearing the distinctive headgear appropriate to their branch.

These were men who were expected to have a high standard of self-discipline. Men who could be trusted to engage in semi-independent operations. Men who had been hardened in battle.

One thing that really struck me was the feeling of trepidation after the redcoats had fixed bayonets.

As a boy we had learned that early in the Revolution, Americans were not trained to use bayonets, mostly did not have them and had never faced them in the wars on the frontiers. A common trait of European drill was the use of the bayonet.

Though units seldom met at bayonet point in hand-to-hand combat (one side or the other would usually fall back before it came to that) there were instances where the troops went in with the bayonet. In the absence of serious opposition, it was nothing. Disobey and be flogged half to death. Better to skewer one's opponents than face that!

When the battalion was ordered to advance at the slow march, bayonets charged, it was a fearsome sight. I know that feeling to a certain extent. Though it was only in re-enactments and you knew that you would come to no harm, facing a line of bayonets advancing to the beat of the drums, coming straight at you, is a most fearsome thing.

Two-hundred and forty years ago, a strong British force marched out of Boston before dawn. Much has been written about that day. As an American, as a New Englander, I always saw things from the colonists' point of view.

Damn lobsterbacks!

But it struck me on Thursday, which just so happened to have been St George's Day in England, that there were two sides engaged upon that fateful day. Many of my ancestors were still, at that point in time, still in the old country. Whether it was Britain, or Scotland, or France, I may have had relatives wearing the red coat.

So what must it have been like, to fall in when it was still dark out, shoulder musket and pack and then march off to the boats? The boats which were to carry you and your comrades across the Charles River to then begin the march to Concord. Would you be wondering if there would be no opposition at all or would the advance be contested?

Soldiers think of these things as the sun rises and the day grows hotter.

To see the rude militiamen flee after the first volley must have been a boost to morale. "Do ya see lads? They'll not stand! Advance!"

Of course, the officers and sergeants would quickly get things under control. "Reform, fall in. You there! That man! Fall in!"

The march would continue.

At a bridge near Concord, the Colonials again made a stand. This time they got off a volley, then another.

There on the bridge was a man wearing the same uniform as you, his blood pooling underneath him as the musket balls continued to buzz past.

The officers are not so confident now. The command to fall back is given. The countryside is aroused, back to Boston, we'll settle this another day.

But it's a long march down that country road. Off in the fields you see glimpses of armed men, flitting through the brush. Occasionally stopping to fire.

Another man falls, then another.

You deploy into line, your volley is wasted in the trees. No one is there.

But now, behind you. More snapping musketry. An officer pitches off his horse into the road, he is obviously in agony. But you cannot stop, the bloody rebels seem to be everywhere.

Eventually another column reaches yours, reinforcements! But the Colonials stay out of reach. They follow though and their numbers grow.

Back in quarters, you count the cost. Messmates who were there that morning are nowhere to be seen. You try and remember, did you see Charlie go down by that stonewall? Did that really happen? Was it all some horrible dream?

No lad, it was real. All too real. And it wouldn't end until Yorktown, six years later.

I wonder what it was like.

For both sides engaged that day. Did any man there think that the war would last so long?

Was there a man wearing a red coat that day who eventually climbed aboard a troop transport back to England after Yorktown, wondering what had happened?

Was there an American that day who looked back in old age and marveled that he and his ragged comrades launched a fight that would one day end in victory?

What was it like on that April morn, in 1775?

What was it like?
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
The Concord Hymn - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Lion of the North - 30 Years War

King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden at the Battle of Breitenfeld, 1631
In the Musée Historique de Strasbourg - Artist: Johann Walter
King Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus is the Latinized version of the King's name) is perhaps one of the most brilliant soldiers you've probably never heard of, unless of course you are a military historian. Which I am, though strictly of the amateur variety.

In Sweden, he is remembered as Gustav Adolf den store, Gustav Adolf the Great. The 6th of November is celebrated as Gustavus Adolphus Day in Sweden, Estonia and Finland, the anniversary of the King's death at the Battle of Lützen, leading a charge. He died at the age of 37, little less than a month shy of his birthday.

He had been King of Sweden since he was 16.

He is called, by some, the first modern general. A master of combined arms and a brilliant administrator as well. Prior to his reign, Sweden was, at best, a regional power. From his reign until the defeat of Charles XII at Poltava by Peter the Great of Russia, Sweden was a major power in Europe.

In those days, when the Swedes marched, Europe trembled.

When I was a lad I was heavily into war gaming. Which I discussed a while back in this post. One of the companies I purchased quite a few games from was SPI, Simulations Publications Inc. One of the concepts they came up with was the "Quad Pack." Four board games using a common set of rules covering a single period of history.

They had a couple of Quad Packs on the American Civil War, I bought both. They had at least one Quad Pack covering the Napoleonic Wars. Yes, I bought that. In those days I was single and had very few expenses. What's more, those games, they were rather addictive.

They had another Quad Pack called "Thirty Years War," a conflict of which I had zero knowledge. So I did a little research, learned a little about that time period. Then I recalled a movie I had seen before joining the Air Force. The Last Valley, starring Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, that movie had been set during the Thirty Years War.

Long story short, I went out and bought that Quad Pack. The four battles were Lützen (1632), Nördlingen, Rocroi (1643) and Freiburg (1644). There were actually two battles of Nördlingen during the Thirty Years War, one in 1634 and the second in 1645. I don't recall which one the Quad Pack covered.

Gustavus Adolphus praying before the battle of Lützen
Artist Unknown - Public Domain (Source)

Battle of Lützen
The Death of King Gustavus Adolphus
Carl Wahlbom - Public Domain (Source)

Rocroi, the last tercio
Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (CC- Source)

Playing those games generated an interest in the Thirty Years War.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the year 1648 saw the end of the Thirty Years War and the date also marks the rise of the modern nation-state. The Thirty Years War also marked the beginning of modern warfare. In essence, the warfare of the Middle Ages was at an end, modern war, the mass wars which killed so many thousands in the centuries to come, had begun.
The Thirty Years' War saw the devastation of entire regions, with famine and disease significantly decreasing the population of the German and Italian states, the Kingdom of Bohemia, and the Low Countries. The war also bankrupted most of the combatant powers. Both mercenaries and soldiers in armies were expected to fund themselves by looting or extorting tribute, which imposed severe hardships on the inhabitants of occupied territories. W
The Spanish army was also a power heading into the war, their tercios were built around a corps of professional soldiers. The formation (which on paper had a strength of 3000) consisted of pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers or musketeers.

Arquebus firing during the Geneva Escalade of 2009
Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr
Musketeer from the Swedish Altblau regiment (1624–1650) with musket and bardiche (long poleaxe)
Photograph by Michal Maňas 
, Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

One thing that is worth noting in the picture of the arquebusier is that he is being protected by pikemen. The arquebus and the old muskets of the time took quite a while to load. While they were loading their weapons, these men were very vulnerable to cavalry or really just anybody with an edged weapon. So the formation had pikemen.

Until the bayonet was invented (which wasn't common until after the Thirty Years War) the pike was a major component of a fighting formation. Like the Spanish tercio.

The tercio had a block of pikemen at the center of the formation, a formation that Alexander the Great would recognize. At the corners or along the sides were blocks of arquebusiers. They provided the fire, the pikemen the shock. Surprisingly those blocks of pikemen maneuvered pretty well for such a seemingly unwieldy looking grouping.

The Siege of Breda in 1624 by Jacques Callot, showing the tercios of the Army of Flanders.
(Public Domain)
Artillery at the beginning of the period was nearly immovable. The guns would be positioned on the field prior to a battle. Hopefully where they would be useful. Moving them after the battle started was difficult as the cannon were so heavy. One of Gustavus Adolphus' innovations was to lighten the cannon so that they could be moved once battle was joined.

Another somewhat unusual feature of the time was how cavalry was used.
The caracole or caracol (from the Spanish caracol - "snail") is a turning maneuver on horseback in dressage and, previously, in military tactics.

In dressage, riders execute a caracole as a single half turn, either to the left or to the right. The military caracole as it is usually understood today developed in the mid-16th century in an attempt to integrate gunpowder weapons into cavalry tactics. Equipped with one or two wheellock pistols, cavalrymen would advance on their target at less than a gallop in formation as deep as 12 ranks. As each rank came into range, the soldiers would turn their mount slightly to one side, discharge one pistol, then turn slightly to the other side to discharge the other pistol at their target. Since this involved presenting an almost immobile target to the enemy infantry for some time, the temptation must have been strong to fire the weapons without taking an accurate aim. The horsemen then retired to the back of the formation to reload, and then repeat the manoeuvre. The tactic was accompanied by the increasing popularity of the German Reiter in Western armies from about 1540.

The caracole was a tactic very much criticized by military historians who didn't fully understand its use, especially Charles Oman. The caracole was developed as a light cavalry tactic to be used in combination with the fully armoured lancers that made up the heavy cavalry in those times. Pistoleers were to disrupt infantry with their rolling fire, preparing the ground for the heavy cavalry to deliver a decisive charge. This tactic was successfully implemented, for instance, at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh.
Some historians after Michael Roberts associate the demise of the caracole with the name of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Certainly he regarded the technique as fairly useless, and ordered cavalry under Swedish command not to use the caracole; instead, he required them to charge aggressively like their Polish-Lithuanian opponents. However, there is plenty of evidence that the caracole was falling out of use by the 1580s at the latest. Henry IV's Huguenot cavalry and Dutch cuirassiers were good examples of cavalry units that abandoned the caracole early on — if they ever used it at all. W
An interesting time period in warfare. Bloody and brutal. Dominated by a number of "great captains" in addition to Gustavus Adolphus. We shall meet more of them in due time.

The English Civil War also occurred near the end of the Thirty Years War. Think Oliver Cromwell and Charles I of England. Cavaliers and Roundheads. Another event I plan on covering, eventually.

Good movie too.

Spanish Inquisition?

No doubt I'll get to that one of these days.

History, it's a hobby. It's a passion.