Monday, July 31, 2017

"I feel like a heel. I'm getting out but other guys are staying in."

With apologies to Mr Churchill.  "Never in the course of human events has" a construction project been completed on time or within budget.  Not the F-35, Not the F-22, Not the USS Zumwalt, Not Washington DC.  Heck, not the Pyramids.  Probably not even the Cave Drawings of pre-Historic Man.

"Grok, when are you going to finish that Mastodon drawing?"

"Soon, Blok, no later than the next full moon, or maybe the one after that, but soon!"

Needless to say, our school district's construction plan is not going to break mankind's record.

The teachers will be back a week from today.  Most have already stopped in and their guaranteed question, "When can I move my stuff?" is wearing.

Just an update, in case anybody was wondering.  So, as they used to say  "On with the show".

As we saw a couple of weeks ago, 1943 was not a good year for the Army Air Forces.  P-51's and drop tanks were starting to arrive in theater, but not in sufficient numbers to start establishing Air Superiority, much less the Air Supremacy they would have by D-Day.
This is a Keith Ferris mural in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum

Daylight Bombing Raids were taking a severe beating.  60 bombers were lost on August 17 on raids to Schweinfurt and Regensburg.  Figuring 10 men per, that's 600 lost (the site sourced provides an estimate that half were captured, but that's still a sizable dent in available manpower and weaponry.)

Even after that, and with escorts of Mustangs, the 8th AF bombers took losses.  But in a war of attrition, the side with the most resources backed up with the strongest resolve (read stomach) usually wins.  This was the case in WWII.

Unfortunately, individual participant's fate usually was determined by luck, although determination does play a role.  At this point in the war, the average sorties completed before an aircrewman was lost to the effort was 11, far short of the 25 needed to complete a tour.

Which brings us to the subject of this weeks story.  TSgt Forrest L. Vosler (Woody to his crew) had volunteered on graduation from High School to join the Army Air Forces.  He'd wanted to be a pilot (who doesn't?), but failed the initial aptitude screening, so was trained as a radio operator on the B-17.

Not knowing much about what a radio operator did on a B-17 (on everything I flew, the radio operator, me, pushed the button and talked, occasionally changed the frequency, then pushed the button and talked.), this article helped me understand.  Yes, he operated the radio, but was more of a spare crewman (and we'll get to why that was important). He did have a machine gun to man that fired out the top of the aircraft pointed aft.  Here's the view.

TSgt Vosler had a few extra hoops to jump in order to arrive at his designated point of greatness.  He was too tall for the Air Corps but managed to convince them that he was just barely over the limit and would adjust.  The limit was 6', he was 6' 3".

It's now just before Christmas, 1943 and the Target for the day is Bremen.

500 Bombers are in the raid.  (They would orbit over England for two hours getting into the attack formation.)  Bremen had been attacked a few days before, and the mission had been comparatively easy.  It was expected to be the same this time.  Expectations rarely match reality.

TSgt Vosler's crew was on their 4th mission.  As they Bomber Stream crosses the coastline, his bomber is hit by AAA (Hissss!) and loses an engine.  Able to maintain formation, they continue on and release their ordnance.  As they're clearing the target area, they're again hit by AAA and lose another engine.

Now, unable to maintain formation and the defensive firepower protection, they're attacked by fighters.  The tail gunner (probably the most important crewmember besides the pilot) is severely injured and TSgt Vosler is injured by shrapnel from the attack.

After removing the tail gunner from his position, he takes over and resumes firing at attackers.  During another attack, he also is severely injured and shrapnel has entered his eyes effectively blinding him.

The pilot takes the bomber down on the deck to minimize the attack vector and finally the fighters withdraw due to low fuel.

It's obvious to all concerned that the aircraft is not going to make it to England, so they start dumping stuff overboard to reduce weight.  The pilot tells TSgt Vosler to make a position report to improve their chances of being rescued in the North Sea.  When doing so, he realizes that the radio is inoperative.

Still blinded, he manages to repair the radio by touch and makes the report which is acknowledged by Air/Sea Rescue.

The aircraft successfully ditches and TSgt Vosler climbs out onto the wing dragging the badly injured tail gunner with him.  He then manages to hold on to both the crew member and the aircraft until the rest of the crew readies the dinghy and helps them into it.

They are rescued shortly thereafter.

For his actions on this mission, he received the Medal of Honor from FDR.


The first two sources below, contain much more detailed descriptions of the mission and are worth your time to read.

I found this section from the first source to be comforting.

"They're not playing the game right, hitting a guy in the eyes," Vosler recalled as being his first thought in that horrible moment. "I couldn't see well, but when I moved my hand down to my chest where I'd been hit--I was trying to open my jacket to find out how badly--I noticed that my hand was shaking. I couldn't control it. Then I reached up and dragged my hand across my face to see if there was blood, and when I looked at it my whole hand was covered with blood. 
"The shell fragments had damaged the retina of my right eye, and I was seeing blood streaming down the retina inside my eye, thinking it was on the outside. So my natural feeling was that I had lost the whole side of my face...I thought I only had half a face. 
"I became extremely concerned, I was out of control, really. Obviously I wasn't going to have a chance to get out of this thing now. I knew I was going to die. I knew my life was coming to an end. The fear was so intense, it's indescribable, the terror you feel when you realize you're going to die and there's nothing you can do about it. So I started to lose control, and I knew then that I was either going to go completely berserk and be lost, or something else would happen. 
"And a strange thing DID happen. I lived every day of my life. I relived my whole life, day by day, for 20 years. It put everything in perspective. For the first time I realized what a wonderful, wonderful life I had had. There were only a few days in my whole life that were bad, and I asked God to forgive me for those bad days, and thanked Him for all the many wonderful days he had given me. I said, 'I'm not going to ask you for any more days. It's been too nice.'  I even reached out my hand and said, 'Take me, God, I'm ready.' 
I became very content, very calm, very collected. I no longer feared death, which is a terrible thing to fear. And I slowly realized that if God didn't want to take me at that particular point, then I had to go on and do the best things I could do."
Over the course of writing this series of posts, comments like that are a clear indication that the Recipient survived the action.  Indeed, TSgt Vosler survived, but his injuries were severe enough to end his war.  Multiple surgeries eventually returned his sight and health (with the donation of a healthy eye from a living donor).  He spent his post-military career as a counselor with the VA before passing away in 1992.
 Rest in Peace, Warrior!

TSgt Vosler's Commendation.

For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler's actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crewmember, were outstanding.


Title Quote Source Statement by TSgt Vosler upon medical retirement while the war was still going on.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Alles Besser Jetzt*

The Backyard at Chez Sarge, Summer 2015
Yesterday was a bit of a downer post, Friday had been a mixed bag and I was having one of my melancholy days I guess. At any rate, things were much better Saturday. The weather was odd though, cloudy, fitful winds in the morning, temps in the low 60s.

While it got sunny later on, it was still blustery and cool. My kind of day actually, very comfortable, very pleasant. And very lazy, sad to say.

I spent a bit of time wondering what to offer you on this fine Sunday. Discovered that while I had a number of ideas, all historical, I just didn't have the requisite energy to knuckle down and get stuck in.

Like I said, lazy.

So, s'il vous plaît, pardonnez-moi, you get a rerun. Well, don't look at me like that, it is summer, you should be outside, enjoying the weather, not reading my blathering.

From August of 2013, one of my favorites. For the new folks it will give you a little more insight into who I am. For whatever that's worth.

* All better now...
The Somme Battlefield Today
Near Beaumont-Hamel, France

There’s a before and after line to killing someone else, even someone anonymous. Just like there’s a before and after line to losing a friend, or a wingman. It changes you, and you can rationalize all you want, but you're someone different than you were the day before.
- Lex, 13 April 2004

As I get older, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking. Much more so than when I was young. Perhaps it's the realization that one's time on this Earth is limited. We all have to die sometime, someday. As I count the years I've seen, it hits me, what's left is less than what I've got behind me. It's not that I have a sense of my impending doom, but if life has taught me one thing, it's that it could all end suddenly and abruptly. Ya never know.

In the journey from birth to death, there are lines we all must cross. Once having crossed that line, nothing is ever the same.

In that opening picture is the battlefield of the Somme, in France, from World War I. One million, (yes, one million) men were killed or wounded in that battle fought from 1 July to 18 November in 1916. The British Army alone suffered over 60,000 casualties on the very first day of the offensive. 60 thousand men, killed, wounded, maimed. In one day.

World War I was called the "War to End All Wars" but it was anything but. World War I destroyed a generation of young men. The scars on the souls of those who were impacted by the so-called "Great War" are fading, as those who fought that war have mostly passed on. And the loved ones they left behind are also very old and soon will be no more.

Every generation seems to have some watershed event which marks them. For my parents' generation it was Pearl Harbor. Followed by the Second World War. An event even more monstrous than the First World War.

Of the nations impacted by WWII, on the first of September 1939, these nations comprised some 2 billion people. Military deaths in WWII are estimated at 22 to 30 million. Yes, that's dead, doesn't count the wounded. Civilian deaths are estimated at 38 to 55 million. Again that's people who were killed. Doesn't count the wounded, the maimed, the displaced, the tortured and persecuted. (Full details here.)

An event like that must have crippled the souls of those directly touched by the conflict. Especially in Europe. First there was WWI, then there was WWII. It is no wonder to me that Europeans tend to be somewhat, shall we say, pacifistic? They are witnesses to the most hellish conflicts ever to disturb the history of humanity.

My generation has had it's watershed events, two immediately spring to mind which had a huge impact on my early years.

Dallas, 22 November 1963

Reaching Out
Larry Burrows, 1966
I was born in 1953, for the next ten years I remember my childhood as being idyllic. No worries, while we weren't rich, we were comfortable. (I remember my Dad having to work extra hours to make sure we had the things we needed.) Life, as I remember it, was excellent.

The assassination of JFK in 1963 shattered a number of my illusions. It seemed to me that the world had gone somewhat insane. Why would someone want to kill the President? After that, Vietnam began making the news. A lot.

From junior high school up until my freshman year in college there was some question in my generation's collective mind if we were going to have a chance to grow up. Vietnam was splashed all over the news, it was a specter which haunted me every day. Would I have to go?

Combat veterans of my acquaintance (including close relatives) said that this was a "bad war". It wasn't like "their war" (which had been WWII of course). These were confusing times for a young lad.

Looking back on things, I now realize that the MSM sold us all a bill of goods. I have friends and acquaintances who are Vietnam vets. Don't tell them that theirs was a "bad war". I have Vietnamese friends, don't tell them it was a "bad war". The ending was bad. For that we can thank the media and traitors like our current Secretary of State (whose name I cannot mention without spitting).

I joined the military in the aftermath of Vietnam. It was in many respects, a mess. Drug use was pretty rampant, pot mostly, and race relations were not all that great. Things were improving, then the peanut farmer came along, up until now the worst President in living memory.

But that passed, eventually.

But all of these things were lines which were crossed. And once crossed, things were different.

Then there came the year my oldest child received his commission in the United States Navy. The year when my kids' generation had their first watershed event.

I don't think I need to say anything about that particular image. We are still in the shadow of that event. Again the media doesn't get it. The traitors on the left again, don't get it.

Each of these events I've mentioned changed the world. These events impacted millions.

But looking back over the years, there are smaller events which go unnoticed by one's neighbors and perhaps even by one's friends. These are events which have impacted me in very significant ways. And again make me ponder my own mortality.

In January 2010, due to a lack of work, I had to travel to another of my company's facilities. One that is a hundred miles from home. But God bless them they kept me around, they kept me on the payroll. There were many, including some dear friends, who couldn't say that, who lost their jobs at that time. So yes, that was traumatic.

Then in February of that year, my Dad died. It was like I'd slipped my anchor and was now adrift in this vast and sometimes confusing world. My most trusted advisor was gone. The guy I could always turn to, no matter what, was gone.

Okay, you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off and you drive on. Life doesn't stop. You lick your wounds and you press on. It's all you can do really.

But there is one more life changing event I must share with you. It's the reason you are reading these words of mine, it's the reason I'm sharing these words with you.

While away from home I discovered the world of blogs. Fascinating stuff, people sharing their lives, thoughts and observations on line. Great stuff. I got hooked. It was also a source of opinion, and yes even news, untainted by the powers that be. Untainted by the MSM, whom I still view largely as traitors and destroyers of our way of life.

One guy in particular stuck out. One guy in particular became a must read. First thing in the morning, every day, I read his blog. I tell you what, the man could write.

Then one day, another watershed in my existence. He was gone. Lost in the crash of his fighter in a driving snowstorm in Nevada. Leaving a wife and three kids behind. Leaving many friends and avid followers behind.

To Absent Friends
He's why I started this blog. But he's only part of the reason I will continue it as long as I feel I have something to share.

Writing this is cathartic. I also enjoy it beyond belief. And having you folks, my readers, stop by and read and sometimes comment, gives me pleasure beyond measure.

But I also do it so that someday my grandkids can sit down and peruse the archives and maybe say -
"Grampa was an interesting guy. Bit of a goofball sometimes, but an interesting guy."
Thanks for reading...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Plumbing the Depths

It's been a good week. Got a lot done at work, put out some quality blog posts, but I'm tired, really tired. On the way to work Friday morning, the mist was on the water, the sun was coming through the clouds and it looked to be a very nice day.

Which it was.


Sometimes I get wound up over the oddest things. Really wound up. I know that being tired has a lot to do with it, but still and all, some things just piss me off. It's tough when it's something done by a friend, in all innocence. No harm was meant, no foul intended, but there it is, I don't like that. Damn it.

A line was crossed, I said nothing. It wasn't my place but there it is. Give me a day or two and I'll be all better. But Friday night I was pissed. So, I kicked back and listened to some music.

One tune was mentioned by a buddy over on koobecaF, another buddy posted a version of it in the comments. Two brilliant musicians playing an old favorite. This tune saw me through some sad times and some good times, back in the day.

Yeah, there's been times that I couldn't find my way home, but the mist has lifted, I'm in a safe harbor, calm waters, sandy bottom. Good times as I savor the tail end of existence. I'm kinda hoping it's a long tail, but if not? Ainsi soit-il, I've had a good run. A lot of folks didn't get this far...

Yup, a bit down as I write this, but the music helps. Here's another favorite...

Knew a lady, back in the day, who had that problem.

She won, "Jolene" lost. Big time.

Big careful out there...

Badge of Clan MacBain
Fuirich air ais, tha sinn a 'bìdeadh!


Yeah, some days it's just like that...

Friday, July 28, 2017

May 1940

Refugees in Belgium, May 1940 (Source)
So, continuing (after a bit of a pause for other stuff) with the Dunkirk theme (the movie of course, not the town) I thought it might be worthwhile to cover a few things. The context of Operation Dynamo (which was the code name for the evacuation) and some of the events leading up to the evacuation and why the evacuation was necessary. And yes, I will be interjecting some of my own opinions on the matter and some of those opinions may upset/annoy any French or Russian readers. (If we actually have any of those, I mean The Chant gets hits from those two countries, but never any comments. Just sayin'...)

Now we need to go back to World War I, everything which followed the Armistice of 1918 (on the 11th of November of that year, there's a reason the British Commonwealth calls that day Armistice Day, even if we do not. (Opinion Alert: I prefer the to call it Armistice Day and I "celebrate" that day much the same way as the Commonwealth does, as a day of mournful remembrance. I'm a veteran, I don't need a "Veteran's Day" to remind me of that, nor to be celebrated. The retirement check is all the thanks I need. But I digress...)

Let's go back in time, shall we? World War I is over, the British and the French decide that "it's all Germany's fault" as the Austro-Hungarian Empire is no more, they are defunct, if they hadn't nailed them to the perch...

Oops, reverted to my default Monty Python mode, it happens.


Germany gets all the blame for World War I. No more airplanes, no tanks, and your army can only be 100,000 guys and none of that "bring in reservists every six months" crap like you pulled after the French kicked your Prussian butts in 1806. (Yeah, I'll enlighten you on that score. Someday. POCIR.)

Shortly after all that, the Depression hits and things suck for everybody in the civilized world. (FWIW, things have always sucked in the uncivilized world. Life there is nasty, brutish, and short. Hobbes wrote that, the philosopher, not the tiger.)

Long story short, the Germans are pissed at their government, so they elect Hitler to be in charge. Sort of. In actuality, the German political system of the late 20s, early 30s was sort of like the French and sort of like the British. They had a president who was the head of state (like the president in France and the Queen in the UK) and a chancellor (like the premier in France and the prime minister in the UK. Follow me so far?) who was the head of government.

There was an election, Hitler's party, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, the NSDAP, or Nazis, for short) won a plurality (not a majority) of the vote. The party with the largest vote total should get to have it's party leader be the chancellor. Hitler, of course, was the leader of the Nazi Party. But there were a number of people who thought that that would be a bad idea to have this guy, who had a lot of thugs in his party, be the chancellor of Germany. The very same office held by the great Otto von Bismarck!

Now the president of Germany at that time was Paul von Hindenburg, an old general. He was getting a bit senile and he really didn't like Hitler, a former corporal. But a lot of folks convinced the old guy that they could "control" Hitler. Go ahead, make him chancellor they said, it'll be fine, they said.


Paul von Hindenburg
(And yes, the airship that blew up in New Jersey was named after him.)

Hitler is appointed Chancellor, Hitler gets to be in charge, there's another election (which the Nazis forced) and now the Nazis pretty much own the whole shooting match. Hindenburg dies, Hitler manages to abolish the office of president and has himself appointed Führer und Reichskanzler, the Leader and Chancellor of the Realm. In other words, Germany now belongs to Hitler. He is the boss.

Yes, I have skipped a lot of details here. The German tank school in the Soviet Union which ended before Hitler had fully seized the reins of government springs immediately to mind. Let's jump ahead, here's a timeline of the events leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk and afterwards to the end of the Battle of Britain -
While the Poles were fighting bravely against the Germans, the Russians stabbed them in the back. (Hey Vladimir, should they have put that in the movie Dunkirk?) Meanwhile the British and the French watched from their positions along the Rhine and did what?

Pretty much nothing. So much for Britain "guaranteeing" Poland's independence. Of course, the British Army was small, especially when compared to those of the Germans and the French. There was realistically nothing the British could do as an independent force. So what about the French?

France was still exhausted by World War I, her government, her people, and her army had no desire to see another bloodletting on the scale of 1914 - 1918, which was fought (in Europe) primarily on French soil. But the French had also learned all the wrong lessons from World War I.

The aircraft?

The French high command saw little use for it except as an auxiliary to the ground forces.

The tank?

A good thing to support infantry with, so their tanks, while they had better guns in general than the Germans, tended to be ponderous, slow. Much like the British tanks of the period. While the Germans were forming armored and motorized divisions, the French assigned their tanks in "penny packets" to support the infantry.

Remember the trenches and the extensive fortifications of World War I?

The French most certainly did. They poured lots of money into a string of fortifications known as the Maginot Line.

Yup, the Germans went around it. In all fairness, northern France has some very poor soil for fortifications this massive, a lot of them would have sunken into the mud when the heavy rains came. The Ardennes did look pretty iffy to drive tanks through as well. I mean the Americans in 1944 viewed it the same way, "can't drive tanks through there!"

Well, you can but the logistics are a bear. Narrow roads, hills, and forests. It's easy enough to drive a bunch of tanks through. But add in all the trucks, troops, and supplies that need to travel with those tanks and you have a big potential problem on your hands.

Traffic jams of that very nature stalled and eventually stymied the German attack in December of 1944. But May of 1940 was a totally different beast. Fine weather and little resistance and before you know it, the German armor was at, and then over the Meuse.

The German tank generals wanted to drive on to the English Channel and cut off the British and French armies in Belgium and...


Yes, Belgium.

For the Brits and the French expected a replay of Word War I: Germans invade Belgium and then sweep into France. So they figured they would advance into Belgium and meet the Germans forward, away from the French border.

Now if some German generals had had their way, that's exactly what would have happened. But there were a number of modern thinking German generals and Hitler actually listened to them. So here's a map of what happened -

Fall Gelb* (Source)
Blue lines advancing into Belgium, which the Belgians weren't all that thrilled with at first, see the red lines advancing through your rear areas, fouling your logistics and cutting off your combat units from their bases of supply? Yeah, those are the Germans, using tanks and aircraft, spoiling your lovely little plan.

Most folks think the German Army in World War II was fully motorized, with lots and lots of tanks. A common, and very false, perception. What the Germans did was concentrate them and use them in ways that most of the enemies they faced hadn't really considered. Their armored divisions (Panzerdivisionen) were a well-balanced mix of tanks, motorized infantry, artillery, engineers, and logistical units. They could move fast and they did, what's more, the Panzer generals knew how to use them.

So in late May, 400,000 Allied troops found themselves behind the German lines along the Channel coast in the vicinity of, you guessed it, Dunkirk.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The British view of the evacuation -

The German view -

The French view -

War is Hell.

* Fall Gelb - Case Yellow, the invasion of the Low Countries, Luxembourg, and France.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski,
Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko,
Michael Kováts de Fabriczy,
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette,
Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben
(Left to right, top to bottom Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Today I want to talk about five heroes of the American Revolution. Maybe you've heard of them, maybe you haven't. Two Poles, a Hungarian, one Frenchman, and a Prussian. One could make the argument that if these five fellows hadn't shown up on our shores, we might have remained part of the British Empire, however grudgingly for a tad longer than we did. In face, we may have gone the way of Canada. Eventually sovereign, part of the British Commonwealth, and perhaps with lingering memories of a bloody revolution which failed.

But those five guys did show up and today I want to tell you a little about them.

Now this country was built by immigrants and the original inhabitants as well. (Code-talkers anyone?) But most of those folks were people like you and me, we did our bit without a lot of shouting and cheering, then went home to get on with our lives. But these five guys I'm going to talk about? All were professional soldiers, some went on to other wars, other revolutions, and like I said, without their presence and assistance in the birth of this nation, who knows where we might have wound up.

One thing you might notice is that "them furriners" all seem to have really long names, I mean Kováts is bringing up the rear in that category, but do you know what is name was in Hungarian, his birth name if you will? Kováts Mihály, the shortest name of the lot. (Note that in Hungary the family name comes first, like Japan and Korea, and others I'm sure.)

Anyhoo, let's get to it!

Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski, or Casimir Pulaski, as we Americans like to keep things simple, especially names we can't pronounce, (We can, we're just impatient and perhaps unwilling to spend the time to do it right. For fun and games, plug his name into Google Translate and then hit the little speaker icon, the pronunciation isn't that hard. But it is tougher than say "Fred" or "Bob.") was born in Poland in 1745. His father was a count (hence the long name, nobles always get long names, I'm sure there is a rationale behind that) and the two of them were big in resisting the Prussians and the Russians who, along with the Austrians, were always dividing Poland up between themselves.

He came to the Americas in 1777, after a correspondence with Ben Franklin, who was much impressed with the young man (he was 32) -
Franklin was impressed by Pulaski, and wrote of him: "Count Pulaski of Poland, an officer famous throughout Europe for his bravery and conduct in defence of the liberties of his country against the three great invading powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia ... may be highly useful to our service." He subsequently recommended that General George Washington accept Pulaski as a volunteer in the Continental Army cavalry and said that Pulaski "was renowned throughout Europe for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of his country's freedom." Pulaski departed France from Nantes in June, and arrived in Marblehead, Massachusetts, near Boston, on July 23, 1777. After his arrival, Pulaski wrote to Washington, "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it." (Source)
Washington made him a brigadier general and along with his friend Michael Kováts de Fabriczy were known as the fathers of the U.S. cavalry. (Some sources say Pulaski was the dad, some say Kováts, as they were friends, I'm guessing it was a cooperative effort.) So our horsemen have some pretty fine ancestors, the Poles and Hungarians are famous for their cavalry (and their sometimes insane bravery!)

General Pulaski was killed in action at Savannah, Georgia on October the 11th, 1779. He was mortally wounded by grapeshot (canister?) while attempting to rally fleeing French cavalry. He had been in command of the combined American and French cavalry at the time of his death.

He is celebrated in his native Poland as a hero and also here, to a lesser extent in the United States. We Americans are all too often ignorant of out own history and the men and women who build this country.

Sad, innit?

Michael Kováts de Fabriczy also corresponded with Ben Franklin (a really useful fellow that Franklin) and offered his sword to Franklin, who was then serving as the ambassador to France. He was accepted and soon joined General Pulaski in the south.
Upon his arrival in America, Kováts joined Count Casimir Pulaski, who was then brigadier general and commander-in-chief of Washington's cavalry. Pulaski's cavalry was poorly trained. There were few trained cavalry officers which made the task of commanding the forces formidable. On February 4, 1778, Pulaski proposed a plan for the formation of a training division of hussars. In a letter to Washington Pulaski wrote: "There is an officer now in this Country whose name is Kovach. I know him to have served with reputation in the Prussian service and assure Your Excellency that he is in every way equal to his undertaking." Later, in another letter to Washington dated March 19, Pulaski again recommended Kovats: "I would propose, for my subaltern, an experienced officer, by name Kowacz, formerly a Colonel and partisan in the Prussian service." (Source)
On the 11th of May, 1777 Colonel Michael Kováts was killed in action before Charleston, South Carolina at the head of Pulaski's Legion. His British opponents admitted that the cavalry trained by him was the best they had seen in American service.

Another man little known in this country. But the cadets of The Citadel remember him and honor the memory of this brave patriot from across the seas who shed his blood for our freedom.

Tadeusz Kościuszko was actually Polish-Lithuanian (those two nations have a long intertwined history together) and was a military engineer. He arrived in America in August of 1776. He petitioned Congress to join the Continental Army and joined the very next day. (I should note that Congress in those days was very infatuated with foreign officers. Even those whose claims to military greatness were largely exaggerated. Washington was very frustrated by this but found a number of the foreign officers to be most useful. Including Kościuszko who went to work straightaway.)

His work on the field fortifications at Saratoga was critical.
Gates tapped Kościuszko to survey the country between the opposing armies, choose the most defensible position, and fortify it. Finding just such a position near Saratoga, overlooking the Hudson at Bemis Heights, Kościuszko laid out a strong array of defenses, nearly impregnable from any direction. His judgment and meticulous attention to detail frustrated the British attacks during the Battle of Saratoga, and Gates accepted the surrender of Burgoyne's force there on October 16, 1777. The dwindling British army had been dealt a sound defeat, turning the tide to an American advantage. Kościuszko's work at Saratoga received great praise from Gates, who later told his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush: "[T]he great tacticians of the campaign were hills and forests, which a young Polish engineer was skillful enough to select for my encampment." (Source)
The defenses at West Point that Benedict Arnold tried to betray to the British? Designed by Kościuszko over two years. Heading south with the army when the struggle in the north dwindled into stalemate, Kościuszko proved his worth again and again.
During the Race to the Dan, Kościuszko had helped select the site where Greene eventually returned to fight Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse. Though tactically defeated, the Americans all but destroyed Cornwallis' army as an effective fighting force and gained a permanent strategic advantage in the South. Thus, when Greene began his reconquest of South Carolina in the spring of 1781, he summoned Kościuszko to rejoin the main body of the Southern Army. The combined forces of the Continentals and Southern militia gradually forced the British from the back country into the coastal ports during the latter half of 1781 and, on August 16, Kościuszko participated in the Second Battle of Camden. At Ninety Six, Kościuszko besieged the Star Fort from May 22 to June 18. During the unsuccessful siege, he suffered his only wound in seven years of service, bayonetted in the buttocks during an assault by the fort's defenders on the approach trench that he was constructing. (Source)
After the Revolution, Kościuszko returned to his native Poland where he led a revolt against the Russians, which bears his name, The Kościuszko Uprising. This uprising failed and led to the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, which took Poland off the map of Europe for 123 years. Not on the map but always alive in the hearts of the Polish people.

I wonder if they still teach about Kościuszko? Sad if they don't, but not surprising.

We should all know the Marquis de Lafayette, they must still teach that. They must.

This young Frenchman, who endeared himself to George Washington, may not have been the best soldier on our side, but he learned fast.
Born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France, Lafayette came from a wealthy landowning family. He followed its martial tradition, and was commissioned an officer at age 13. He became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble, and traveled to the New World seeking glory in it. There, he was made a major general; however, the 19-year-old was initially not given troops to command. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize an orderly retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he returned home to lobby for an increase in French support. He again sailed to America in 1780, and was given senior positions in the Continental Army. In 1781, troops in Virginia under his command blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown. (Source)
Lafayette is indeed remembered in Rhode Island. In fact, there is an old inn (which is now a private home) not far from where I live where Washington and Lafayette stayed for a while. There are signs on the road from where I live to where I work commemorating the battles in Rhode Island during the Revolution.

A very useful young man he later participated in the French Revolution and at one point was the commander of the National Guard of France. Lafayette fell afoul of the Jacobin radicals and eventually had to flee France.

He was stripped of his French citizenship which Napoléon reinstated in 1800. Lafayette was offered the ambassadorship to the United States but he turned it down, wanting nothing to do with Napoléon and his ilk. (Smart guy that Lafayette.)

A brave, intelligent, and scrupulous man.

Growing up I learned the story of the great Baron von Steuben who trained we unruly and undisciplined Americans in the ways of European soldiery. (That whole hiding behind rocks and trees thing was also taught. Early in my life I had one of those "wait a minute" moments. If we can beat the British by skulking about the woods, why would von Steuben be so important? I posted about that a while back, read it at your leisure.)

The Baron's story is an interesting one, he did serve as an officer in the Prussian Army but there is some conjecture as to whether or not he was actually a "baron" as he claimed. Doesn't really matter as -
Washington appointed von Steuben as temporary inspector general. He went out into the camp to talk with the officers and men, inspect their huts, and scrutinize their equipment. Steuben established standards of sanitation and camp layouts that would still be standard a century and a half later. There had previously been no set arrangement of tents and huts. Men relieved themselves where they wished and when an animal died, it was stripped of its meat and the rest was left to rot where it lay. Steuben laid out a plan to have rows for command, officers and enlisted men. Kitchens and latrines were on opposite sides of the camp, with latrines downhill side. There was the familiar arrangement of company and regimental streets.

On May 5, 1778, on General Washington's recommendation, Congress appointed Steuben inspector general of the army, with the rank and pay of major general. Internal administration had been neglected, and no books had been kept either as to supplies, clothing or men. Steuben became aware of the "administrative incompetence, graft, war profiteering" that existed. He enforced the keeping of exact records and strict inspections. His inspections saved the army an estimated loss of five to eight thousand muskets.

Steuben picked 120 men from various regiments, to form an honor guard for General Washington, and used them to demonstrate military training to the rest of the troops. These men in turn trained other personnel at Regimental and Brigade levels. Steuben's eccentric personality greatly enhanced his mystique. In full military dress uniform, he twice a day trained the soldiers who, at this point, were themselves greatly lacking in proper clothing.

As he could only speak and write a small amount of English, Steuben originally wrote the drills in the German dialect of Prussian, the military language of Europe at the time. His secretary, Du Ponceau, then translated the drills from Prussian into French, and a secretary for Washington translated it to English. They did this every single night so Washington could command his soldiers in the morning. Colonel Alexander Hamilton and General Nathanael Greene were of great help in assisting Steuben in drafting a training program for the Army. The Baron's willingness and ability to work with the men, as well as his use of profanity (in several different languages), made him popular among the soldiers. It is here he met his reputed future lover, Captain Benjamin Walker. Upon meeting Walker for the first time he exclaimed "If I had seen an angel from Heaven I should not have more rejoiced." Within weeks, Walker was Steuben's aide-de-camp.

Steuben introduced a system of progressive training, beginning with the school of the soldier, with and without arms, and going through the school of the regiment. This corrected the previous policy of simply assigning personnel to regiments. Each company commander was made responsible for the training of new men, but actual instruction was done by sergeants specifically selected for being the best obtainable.

In the earlier part of the war, Americans used the bayonet mostly as a cooking skewer or tool rather than as a fighting instrument. Steuben's introduction of effective bayonet charges became crucial. In the Battle of Stony Point, American soldiers attacked with unloaded muskets and won the battle solely on Steuben's bayonet training.

The first results of Steuben's training were in evidence at the Battle of Barren Hill, May 20, 1778 and then again at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Steuben, by then serving in Washington's headquarters, was the first to determine that the enemy was heading for Monmouth.

During the winter of 1778–1779, Steuben prepared Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, commonly known as the "Blue Book". Its basis was the training plan he had devised at Valley Forge. It was used by the United States Army until 1814, and affected American drills and tactics until the Mexican War of 1846.
Proper record keeping? Discipline? Drill? Yeah, tickles the Old Sarge's heart it does (yes, I have one). Huge von Steuben fan here. Yuge.

Five men you should know.

Pulaski at Częstochowa - Józef Chełmoński
Kościuszko (Source)
Kováts (Source)
Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge (Source)
Baron von Steuben Drilling Troops at Valley Forge - E. A. Abbey
American heroes...

Even if they were "furriners."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We Need A Movie About...

This guy, for sure.
(U.S. Air Force Photo)
Alright, so we've been all over the movie Dunkirk lately AND yesterday I posted some movie previews that are recent, as in out already or to be released this year. Now on that post there were any number of awesome comments. But there were a couple which gave me the idea for today's post. Before proceeding, here are the comments in question -

(We'll be forming the "Actually liked Pearl Harbor Anonymous" group soon. I need to work out meeting times, etc. So if you're interested in joining ALPHA, let me know. HSWHTPFIHC.)

But IAS, if you had a gazillion dollars to get a historical motion picture made, what would it be? Who would it star? Would you go with CGI? Or would you insist on using real hardware, like the real machines or like the radio-controlled aircraft used in Dunkirk?

I'll kick things off. Remember the opening photo? Yeah, that's what I want to see, a bio-pic of Brigadier General Robin Olds. Start off with an early scene of him flying combat in World War II, then fast forward to the man arriving in Thailand to take command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the mighty Wolf Pack.

There are still a few F-4 Phantoms around, a few MiGs, then you could "special-effect" for quantity. Hell, there's enough combat footage from Vietnam to really give the film that authentic feel. (Remember, you've got a gazillion bucks. but you still have to pay the actors and market the thing. I wouldn't go too nuts on refurbishing Phantoms from the boneyard. Then again, when the movie is over, I could sell those refurbished Phantoms to folks who really, really want their own Double Ugly. I'll bet Juvat wants one, heck after that superb post on Monday, I'd give him one, free!)

My first choice to play the general would be Robert Duvall, if he were a little younger...

Um, okay. You've got the job Mr. Duvall.

Now it's your turn. What movie would you like to see? Even if it's a remake of an old favorite, the only rules are that it has to be military and historical. (No Colonial Space Marines, even though they are cool as heck!) We're not making a documentary, but it has to be close to the truth, no fantasy stuff about "What if Peru had won the Napoleonic Wars?" (Yeah, yeah, I know. They weren't involved...)


Yeah, he could pull it off...(Source)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New World War II Films

The British Army in France and Belgium 1940.
A Morris-Commercial CS8 15cwt truck passes a group of Belgian troops resting by the roadside in Louvain, 14 May 1940. (Source)
After seeing the film Dunkirk last Friday, I've been digging through the archives for material on the events leading up to the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in 1940. A number of folks have expressed an interest in knowing "the rest of the story." Now this stuff (the European viewpoint) wasn't taught in high school when I was a kid, I grew up knowing it because I love to read. A lot. Particularly military history.

Did you know that there are at least three recent or upcoming films dealing with World War II other than Dunkirk? I didn't. The first, a preview of which I saw at the theater where we saw Dunkirk, is Darkest Hour (and which led me to stumble across the other two while searching YouTube for the trailer).

Darkest Hour is a film about the time when Sir Winston Churchill was called to serve as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In hindsight, that appointment, not popular with some, was, in this scribe's humble opinion, the death knell of Hitler and his henchman. There was no quit in Sir Winston. None at all.

Gary Oldman is a brilliant and talented actor, watching that preview I was nearly convinced that Churchill was somehow alive again. Am I looking forward to this film? You betcha!

Another film, one of those I stumbled across, is a Norwegian offering, The King's Choice which apparently came out last year.

Before Hitler invaded France, he sent his forces north, to Norway and Denmark. There they met British and French troops sent to seize the Norwegian port of Narvik. Iron ore from Sweden was being shipped through that port and down to Germany inside Norwegian waters and Churchill and others had a thought to stop that trade. The Allied forces invaded Norway at about the same time the Germans did. It was a disaster for the British and the French (the Royal Navy lost a carrier, HMS Glorious) and should have given the Allies some idea of German capabilities.

It did not.

I need to find this film, the preview looks interesting.

The other film, set later in the war, is HHhH, a rather odd title indeed, turns out that it is an acronym popular inside Germany during the war for "Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich."

Say what?

What that translates to is "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." Heinrich Himmler was the head of the SS and a major power in Nazi Germany. Reinhard Heydrich (his "brain") was a very intelligent and ruthless Nazi who was the "Protector of Bohemia and Moravia" which is what the Nazis called what was left of Czechoslovakia after they'd ripped chunks from it, courtesy of, among others, Churchill's predecessor Neville Chamberlain. He ruled the area from Prague with an iron fist.

This film is about the assassination of Heydrich by Czech patriots sent in by the British. It's a sad story. An entire Czech town, Lidice, was destroyed, the inhabitants murdered or enslaved by the Nazis in retaliation for the killing of Heydrich. Who, incidentally, was one of those fellows of whom a Texan might have said, "needed killing."

This film, which will apparently be released this year, looks pretty good and I plan to see it as well. (Seems that it's title in English is The Man With the Iron Heart, which is what Hitler called Heydrich. Nazis, I hate those guys...)

I wonder why this resurgence of interest in World War II? I'm not complaining but it seems odd. Your thoughts?

I just might exceed my one film a year limit this year. Who knows?