Saturday, June 30, 2018

They were Titans amongst Men.

"They were Titans amongst Men."  So how many times have you heard a phrase like this?  It is so ingrained in what used to be our culture that now there is a tweeter feed named Titans Amongst Men, and a Dungeons and Dragons (the silly role-playing game) fanflick, so you know it is pretty common, or at least a known thing.  But what does it mean?  Well… Let’s start at the beginning.

Who were the Titans?  No, well, yes they are a sportsmoneyball team from Tennessee, but I’m not talking about those Titans.  
Not these guys...

These Guys!
Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, The Fall of the Titans, 1596-98
(Notice the convenient placement of.....  butterflies, a dragonfly and various body parts.)
(It's like some mad game of twister.)

I’m talking about the original Titans, those of Greek mythology.  They were descending from the primordial deities (including Mother Gaia and Father Uranus) and preceded the Olympian deities (the Greek gods living on Olympus.  Zeus, Apollo, that whole bunch.) (Though Zeus was supposedly a Titan also, he apparently thought he was better than his family, so he separated himself. Stuck up little snot.)  Many Titans lived on Mount Othrys, especially the 12 directly descended from Gaia and Uranus.) And they stood tall, some as 12' or more, literally standing over mere men.  Some of them were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with those definitions sometimes radically different from what we enlightened 21st century dwellers consider good or bad.  But we’ll pay attention to the most famous Titan (who wasn't Zeus.)

Prometheus was the Titan/god/demi-god/deity/whatever credited with sculpting men from clay and breathing life into us lesser beings.  For that he is a hero.  But, friend to Mankind, he did, later, a while after creating men, one thing that eternally damned him in the eyes of Zeus and the other gods.  He gave mankind, who to that point had only sunlight to live by and ate only raw food, the power of creation – Fire.  For that, the Olympians chained him to a rock and eternally sentenced him to having his liver ripped out by eagles, only to have the liver regrown in time for the next day (interestingly, the liver is the only internal organ that can regenerate.  2/3rds of your liver can be removed and eventually what is left will grow back.  Neat, huh?)  So, according to the ancient Greeks, Prometheus was The Fire-Bringer.  The one deity who allowed mankind to be more than just a talking animal.  He gave us civilization.  (Not Zeus and the rest of those louts, they just used what Prometheus did against us.)(Somewhat of a Satan in Eden thing, but the gods were already complete d(male external reproductive organ that you can also pee through) by the time Prometheus gave fire.  In Judeo-Christianity, it was Satan who was the complete d(merotycapt) and God who was the virtuous one (or mostly virtuous, we don't/can't understand what God does, for the most part.)

So, a Titan is a mythical person, a Man amongst men.  Someone who towers over mere mortals.  And the best of them gave us Life and Fire.

(For a somewhat humorous and different look at the Greek mythology, I recommend reading "Pyramid Power" by David Freer and Eric Flint.  And it's follow up, "Pyramid Power" does the same for Norse mythology.)

Fire can be our friend, allowing us to cook, to heat, to light, and to make stuff.  Fire can also be our worst enemy.  Destroying and killing, leaving devastation in its wake.  In one of the Norse Sagas, the god Thor was tricked by the Troll king(or some giants) into three contests, one of which was eating.  Thor lost to a tiny little troll/giant who ate everything, food, tableware, the table itself, only later having it revealed that the troll/giant was instead Fire (Thor also lost a wrestling match to a wizened troll/giant who was Old Age, and lost a drinking match by not being able to drain a horn of mead, which turned out to be The Ocean.  But being Thor, he tried, he really tried.  He finally figured out he was bespelled, broke the horn on the face of his tormenter, then went all Thor on everyone's buttocks.  Good Thor.  Wonder if he was thor from all that Thor-ing?) (I find the Norse Sagas much more human-friendly than the Greek myths.  Still not totally human-friendly, but definitely more friendly than the Olympians.)

Wild Fire, specifically wildfire, is a wild and dangerous ‘creature’ that yearly an average of more than 73,000 wildfires burn about 7 million acres of federal, tribal, state, and private land and more than 2,600 structures in the United States.*  Destroying wilderness, killing animals, destroying farms, businesses, homes, whole towns, killing people, leaving behind utter destruction in its wake.  And where there is wildfire, there are those who fight it.  Sometimes just regular old people, to regular old fire-fighters to those who are specialized in wildfire firefighting. 

In the United States, Wildland Firefighters range from the pure amateur, a farmer or rancher with an old deuce-and-a-half with a tank on it, to organized and funded Hotshot Teams and Smoke Jumpers (the firefighting versions of elite ground troops and Rangers.)  Actual official ground group qualification levels include: Fuels Mitigation Crews, who deal with taking care of stuff that can burn; to Level II Incident Management Teams (IMT), capable of defeating smaller fires or serving as 2nd line troops on larger fires; to Level I IMTs, called ‘Hotshots,’ that handle the biggest fires.  Most IMTs are comprised of firefighters from multiple agencies on the local and state level.  Both types of IMTs can be shipped around the nation, and into Canada, to battle wildland fires.

The city of Prescott, Arizona, is the only municipality to ever have a Level I IMT.  From the Prescott (AZ) Fire Department’s website:

The Granite Mountain Hotshots were a crew within the Prescott Fire Department whose mission was to fight wildfires and when not so, engaged in work to reduce growth of fire-prone vegetation. Originally founded in 2001 as a fuels mitigation crew, they were later formed into Crew 7, a Type II IA hand-crew in 2004, and eventually transitioned into a Type I Inter-agency hotshot crew in 2008. 

Get that?  A municipal fire crew designated specifically for wildfire defense went from the lowest level to the highest level in 7 years.  From aiding the ‘real wildland firefighters’ to being the ‘real wildland firefighters.’ 

The Granite Mountain Hotshots were active in fighting fires for years, all over the nation.  From being the brush-draggers to being the guys in the hot-spot.  On call, attacking fire on foot, using shovels, mattocks, axes, chainsaws, fire-cans and flares.  Carrying their tools and fuel and survival gear on their backs.  Humping up and down hill and dale, in hot, nasty dry environments full of ash, embers and flame.  They travelled to and from and from spot to spot in two crew vehicles and some pickups, and being heloed in and out as needed.  They got air support in the form of tanker aircraft and helos.  All of this required great commitment and great sacrifice on their parts, as it tore their bodies up and took them away from their families.

June 28th, 2013, saw the start of the Yarnell Hill Fire, near Yarnell, AZ.  Caused by lightning, fueled by long-term drought conditions, high daytime temperatures and extremely erratic high winds, it would burn till July 10th, destroying 8,400 acres of land, 129 structures and injuring 23, mostly firefighters.  But…

June 30th, 2013, the 20 men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were called to set a counter-fire in front of the main fire, burning towards the town of Yarnell.  Initially the burn went well, but then an air tanker put it out, forcing them to withdraw and reset closer to the town.

But the winds picked up, pushing a wall of flame and embers ahead of the main fire, right into the retreating men. Caught by the sudden rushing fire, in a shallow 'v' that would funnel winds and fire to them, they struggled to create a protective clearing.  They tried to call in air tanker support, to no avail.  They dug shallow dugouts.  They wrapped themselves in protective portable fire shelters.  They did everything conceivably possible.  And Fire, in one of its evil forms, blew over them in a firestorm.  19 died in that horrible clearing, some blown out of their protective firesacks, all burned to death.  One, saved only by fickle fate, a lookout, separated from his team members, survived, rescued by another Hotshot team. 

19 men.  From one city.  Doing what they were trained to do.  Doing what they were good at.  What they loved doing.  Brothers, fathers, sons.  Loved.  Gone.

They were Titans, walking amongst men.

Granite Mountain Hotshots
in order of seniority
End of Shift – 30 June, 2013
Eric Marsh, 43
Jesse Steed, 36
Clayton Whitted, 28
Robert Caldwell, 23
Travis Carter, 31
Travis Turbyfill, 27
Christopher MacKenzie, 30
Andrew Ashcraft, 29
Joe Thurston, 32
Wade Parker, 22
Anthony Rose, 23
Garret Zuppiger, 27
Scott Norris, 28
Dustin Deford, 24
William Warneke, 25
Kevin Woyjeck, 21
John Percin, 24
Grant McKee, 21
Sean Misner, 26
Granite Mountain Memorial at the Prescott Fire Department

The Prescott Fire Department has not rebuilt their Hotshot team, instead transferring low-level wildfire mitigation to their regular crews.  The scars of their loss run deep.

*  stats taken from


Prescott Fire Department:
A short but fact-filled site by the Prescott Fire Department.

Granite Mountain Hotshots State Park:
This is an Arizona state park at the site of the disaster.  Take a look at the terrain the men faced in their final moments.  The website also has bios and pictures of the fallen.  You can get lost here for hours.

“Only the Brave”:
This is a recent movie release (2017) dealing with this group.  How they lived.  How they fought fires.  How they died.  The time-scale is compressed.  What I call a “Watch Once” movie.  Because it is that good, and that powerful, but also that horrific.   
You know the stupid saying here in the USA that it isn’t ‘real’ until someone makes a movie about it?  Well, I remember in 2013 hearing about a wildfire team that died, but I was stupid and wrapped up in myself and then was recently watching a movie about wildland firefighters and got this sense of foreboding.  And by the end of the movie I was crying, loudly.  (Mrs. Andrew thinks I’m a big, mushy goober somedays.)  Watch the end of the movie, all the way to the credits.  It’s important.  Especially the message from the lone survivor.  Go watch it.  (Gah, watched this movie a week ago and I'm still tearing up just thinking about them.  I mourn all 20 of those men.  The survivor, well, did he?  Part of him, maybe, did, but part of him died, too.)

original movie poster, copyright Columbia Pictures

Friday, June 29, 2018

Thought I'd Share Some Cat Pictures

U.S. Marine Corps Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-121 at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal.
F6F-3 Hellcats aboard USS Yorktown (CV-10), 31 August 1943
Grumman F7F Tigercat, Chino, California
VF-111 F8Fs aboard USS Valley Forge
U.S. Navy Grumman F9F-2 Panther (BuNo 122567) in flight.
Grumman F9F-8 Cougar (BuNo 141092) of Fighter Squadron 61 (VF-61) "Jolly Rogers" is positioned on the port catapult of the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CVA-11), 20 April 1956.
U.S. Navy Grumman F11F-1 Tiger fighter (BuNo 141803) of attack squadron VA-43 Challengers, circa 1960.
U.S. Navy F-14B Tomcat prepares to make an arrested landing on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) as the ship conducts flight operations in the Persian Gulf on Nov. 24, 1997.
Those were all American cats, which can fly, there is at least one European cat which is flight capable...

French Air Force Jaguar A/E Fighter-Bomber aircraft flies a refueling mission over the Adriatic Sea, in support of Operation JOINT FORGE.
There are European cats which cannot fly, but are still dangerous and should be approached with caution. Some of these are vary rare because of over hunting in the mid 1940s.

A Tiger I deployed to supplement the Afrika Korps operating in Tunisia, January 1943.
King Tigers on the move in France, June 1944
Panther on the  Western Front.
There is at least one big cat which can still be seen roaming Germany...

German Army Leopard II tank, assigned to 104th Panzer Battalion, scans the battlefield at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center during Saber Junction 2012 in Hohenfels, Germany, Oct. 25.
Yeah, I like cats.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Battle of the Wabash

Old 5th U.S. Artillery Insignia
So the other day, a new commenter, fellow name of George, pointed out that the U.S. Army had suffered a far worse defeat at the hands of the Native Americans long before Custer met his end on the banks of the Little Big Horn. It involved another river, the Wabash, and it happened not long after the Revolution.

The battle didn't take place in June, nope November, but it was an event I had very little knowledge of. So I decided to remedy that.

In looking for information I stumbled across this video, which is pretty good actually. At first I had a quibble or two with this guy, but I watched the whole thing and he makes a very good case for the Battle of the Wabash being the worst defeat ever suffered by the United States Army.

Seemed kind of a fantastic claim, I mean what about Bataan, Kasserine Pass, the loss of most of the 106th Infantry Division in the Schnee Eifel during the Battle of the Bulge? Well, if you consider the percentage of General St. Clair's force which fell on the Wabash, The History Guy makes a pretty good case.

When you lose 97% of your force killed and wounded, yeah, that's pretty bad. More on that crest above after the video (which I got a tip from in the comments to the video, which are not nearly as bad as some YouTube video comments, in fact these are pretty good for a YouTube video, Hell, they're not bad for any venue really!)

Here's the latest version of the 5th Artillery's coat of arms, yeah, one of that regiment's predecessor outfits was with St. Clair on that November day.
Current Coat of Arms
5th Field Artillery Regiment

One of the few military insignia that I've seen which commemorates a defeat in addition to successful engagements. A tip of the hat to a valiant opponent? Perhaps, stranger things have happened in war...

I learn something from my readers every day. Thanks for the tip George!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Never Ask a Rocket Scientist a Simple Question

So it was a beautiful evening on the 25th of June, (Monday instant), I decided to step outside for to observe Nature in her splendor. Behold, there to the south is a nearly full moon and a most interesting (and lovely) bunch of clouds. (I dunno, is "bunch of clouds" the correct astronomical term? Hhmm...)

Lo and behold, there's also a planet there in the gloaming, off there to the right. A little voice in my head said, "I think that's Jupiter." Right after that the little voice (which had now become a wee sma' voice), suggested that a Belhaven Scottish ale would be most delightful and... oops, digressed there, didn't I? Why yes, yes I did.

Now I have had a bit of training in observing the heavens at night, as there is much to see there, but it has been quite some time since I gazed aloft and tried to identify things twinkling, shining, and reflecting. I mean, hey look, it's the Moon, is a fairly easy one. (Good thing we only have one moon, imagine trying to keep track of the moons of those gas giants! Like Jupiter.)

So, I snapped a couple of photos with the cell phone, the one at top was the pick of the litter - Ansel Adams I'm not, and I thought I would do a quick look up of which planet that was.

So Google, "What planet was in the sky with the Moon last night?"

The first page of the search yielded this -

Hitting each of those in succession did not yield the answer I was looking for, though I suppose that if I had spent a modicum of time carefully reading each article, and chasing links to the various star charts and the like, then I quite possibly might have deduced exactly which planet that was. (And you probably would be reading a rerun right now.)

I did note that Saturn stands in opposition to the Sun right now. I didn't even know they were mad at each other.

Anyhoo, I came to the conclusion that one shouldn't ask a rocket scientist (most of the articles having been written by very smart people, folks I refer to as "rocket scientists" when I'm in a good mood, as "freaking poindexters" or "squints" - the latter term I got from the TV show Bones, an old favorite - when I'm not happy with those types. As in my query as to "What planet was in the sky with the Moon last night?"

Simple answer? Not to be had I guess, then I thought, "I know! I'll do a Juvat! I won't 'Google' it, I'll 'Bing' it!" And, the rest, as they say is history...

The same search using Bing -

Freaking Jupiter! I knew it!

So I'm guessing it wasn't the poindexters who write articles about the night sky I should be mad at, nope, it's the poindexters who wrote Google's search algorithms.


So perhaps the post title should have been, "Never Ask a Google a Simple Question, Check with Bing First." But that's a bit unwieldy dontcha think?

It could have been worse, I could have asked Cliff Clavin for the answer...

Though his answer makes perfect sense...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Greasy Grass

History demonstrates that when an advanced civilization encounters a more primitive society, the less advanced society will eventually be destroyed, marginalized, or subsumed by the advanced civilization.

While the Pre-Columbian Americas were categorically not the pastoral, peace-loving, environmentally friendly paradise that some modern day lunatics and Gaia worshippers would have one believe, things really went to Hell in a handbasket for the locals when the Europeans showed up.

The Great Plains stretch on for mile upon mile, rolling hills, narrow watercourses here and there delimited by sparse trees but mostly prairie grasses. This ecosystem supported a wide variety of wildlife - deer, antelope, bison, and the wolves and coyotes that preyed upon them and the smaller species. Most of us have heard of the great herds of bison (what we usually call buffalo, but they're not) which darkened the Plains in their millions.

There were also the native peoples (native insofar as they arrived on the continent before anyone else, they didn't evolve here) who lived on the Plains. The Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Arapaho, and numerous other groupings. The great horse culture as some have called it. (Ironically, though not intentionally ironic, as the horse had been native to North America but the aboriginals had hunted them to extinction. The Europeans brought them back. So the horse culture wasn't that old, but old enough to make for a viable way of life.)

After the Civil War, when the whites were done killing each other, they could now focus on extending the "blessings" of civilization to the entire continent. Manifest destiny and all that. But there were all those pesky Indians out there who didn't really care to share with the greedy whites.

The most "humane" idea was to corral them on reservations, where they'd be less trouble and the government could keep an eye on them, ya know, "help" them. You can imagine how well that worked.

Eventually nearly every tribe fought back, eventually they all lost - their lands, their way of life, and their freedom to roam and do as they please. Governments really don't like people doing as they please, doesn't matter what color your skin is, but one group got in some pretty good licks before they went down hard.

On this date in 1876, the bodies of Companies C, E, F, I, and L of the United States Seventh Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, lay rotting (along with Custer) on a hillside in Montana Territory not far from the Little Big Horn River, called the Greasy Grass by the locals.

Two other battalions of the Seventh - Companies A, G and M under Major Marcus Reno, and Companies D, H, and K under Captain Frederick Benteen - were still fighting for their lives not all that far from where Custer's battalion lay in the hot sun. They were better prepared than Custer's batallion and had had time to receive the attacks from the aroused natives. Some research postulates that Custer's detachment had been hit hard and suddenly, with no time to set up for a proper defense, out in the open, outnumbered, they were overwhelmed. Some native accounts support that contention.

At any rate, Reno's and Benteen's detachments lived (or most of 'em anyway) to fight another day. Custer's detachment was killed to a man. Every last one, soldier and scout, went down fighting or running, didn't really matter, they all died.

Two hundred and sixty eight men of (or attached to) the Seventh Cavalry died on the 25th and 26th of June. Fifty five more were wounded, six later dying of their wounds. Perhaps as few as 31 of the Sioux, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne were killed in action (some sources say as many as 130 to 300 were killed). Perhaps as many as one hundred and sixty Indians were wounded. At least ten non-combatant Indians were killed.

By the 27th of June when the column of General Terry arrived on the scene, the great Indian encampment stretching along the banks of the Greasy Grass, the target of Custer's impromptu attack, was long gone.

It was a bitter defeat for the U.S. Army, the worst defeat suffered in the Indian Wars. But it was the last time the native Americans inflicted such a big defeat on the whites. It was all downhill from there.

While not the only military catastrophe inflicted on a modern military force in the 19th Century (musn't forget the British defeats in Afghanistan and South Africa) it certainly marked the beginning of the end for the inhabitants of the Great Plains.

Where once the buffalo roamed in their millions, and the old tribes followed their migrations, now there are highways, and towns, and farms.




Not for those whose spirits still wander the land of their ancestors. The old ways died on that hill beside the Little Big Horn. Along with most of the Seventh Cavalry.

Sources and good information on the battle:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Nevertheless, He persisted!

The title of this post is taken from a saying frequently used by  howler monkeys to describe some supposedly brave action taken by one of them to fight for the issue of the moment.  It doesn't matter what the issue is, their discussion of it always sounds the same.

For instance, here's a vid of them discussing separating kids from their parents after being detained for illegally crossing our border.

Compelling argument ain't it?

Besides, they never persist.  That would take effort.

Effort like this.

I'd like to introduce 1Lt Edward S. Michael.  Lt Michael joined the Army Air Corps in November of 1940 and applied for Aviation Cadet Training.  However, he flunked the exam and was assigned to Wheeler Field as an Aircraft Mechanic.

Early one Sunday morning in December of '41, he's on KP when he hears aircraft overhead.  Recognizing that the Airfield is under attack, he heads to his duty station coming under attack by a Zero.  A machine gun round hits within a couple of inches of his head, shrapnel causing a minor injury to his face.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

Retaking the exam, and passing, he trains and becomes a B-17 Pilot and is eventually assigned to the 364th Bombardment Squadron in England.

Now, astute readers of this blog will be scratching their head at the familiar sound of that unit's nomenclature.  As well they should, it is the only squadron to have two members receive the Medal of Honor for separate actions.  I have previously posted about Lt William Lawley.  When I was researching Lt Michael and came across his squadron name, Deja Vu dictated I google for a past post on him.  Fortunately, I hadn't as this is a great story of heroism and persistence.

But....I digress.

So, Lt Michael and his crew have trained together and have completed their required 25 missions, but "needs of the Air Force" took precedence and General Doolittle changed the requirements to 30 missions, prorated for those close to or at the previous level.  Lt Michael and crew would have to fly 2 more missions.

Lt Michael is front row, far right
Their 26th target is the ball-bearing factory in Stettin Germany (now Szczecin, Poland, click the link for pronunciation...or ask Pawel.)

Their bombload for the mission is incendiaries and therefore, they are in the last group in the bomber stream.  Which could be good, the Germans might have run out of gas and ammunition attacking the prior formations, or bad, the element of surprise has been lost and the Germans have had time to climb to altitude and prepare.

Unfortunately for Lt Michael and his crew, it was the latter.

Four hours after takeoff and still enroute to the target, they are hit by AAA (Hissss!) and their right wing now has a large hole in it.  

Nevertheless, they persisted.

Now as they approach the beginning of the bomb run, the group is attacked by over 100 fighters in a head on attack.  Lt Michael's bomber, the Bertie Lee, sustains severe damage in the attack.  Two engines took damage,  the radio room was shot up, the cockpit took major damage, and Lt Michael has been hit in the leg and is bleeding profusely.

However, the worst news is delivered by the radioman who makes his way to the cockpit to report that the bombbay is on fire.  At least 3 of the incendiary bombs have been hit by cannon fire and are burning.

Lt Michael attempts to jettison the bombs, but they will not release.

Realizing the near certainty of a catastrophic explosion, Lt Michael orders the crew to bailout.  

Seven of the crew bailout, while Lt Michael and his Co-Pilot maintain control of the aircraft.  Hearing machine gun fire from the nose, Lt Michael realizes the Bombardier hasn't heard the order, so he makes his way forward to verbally tell him.  

Upon reaching the position, the Bombardier tells him that cannon fire has destroyed his parachute.  Lt Michael offers him his.  Which the bombardier refuses. 

Toxic Masculinity at it's finest.

Lt Michael tells him to get to the bomb bay and get the bombs off the airplane.  The bombardier manages to do so.

Still in a dive to evade fighters, they level off about 50' above the ground and start to head back home.  Lt Michael is fighting to stay conscious from blood loss and exertion.  (The time frame from initial damage to this point is about 45 minutes.)

The bomber is badly damaged, the fire has eaten away a good portion of the center of the fuselage.  Engines are out, flight controls are damaged.  The belly turret is jammed in the extended position and the bomb bay doors are stuck open.

They've got 2 chutes and 3 men.  They persist and chose to head for home.

They manage to make it to the Airfield at Grimsby and belly land the aircraft.  "Perfectly" according to the RAF crews who witnessed it.

Lt Michael is whisked off to the hospital where he remains for weeks.  During that period, he manages to bypass censors and let his parent's know that he has been wounded but is alive.  

He is also, consumed with guilt for ordering his crew to bailout.  He second guesses his decision making because he and the other two officers are alive.  The enlisted members of the crew are, at this point, unaccounted.

Whilst recuperation, Lt Michael had grown a goatee, mostly because the hospital had better things to do with him than give him a shave.

News finally arrived that all 7 crewmembers had survived but were POWs.

He makes a vow to not shave until all arrive home.  When advised that he's received the Medal of Honor, he's asked by a General if the beard is something personal.  He responds "Yes Sir, very personal."

Never give up, Never Surrender (Which is another way of saying "Nevertheless, he persisted).

It's the morning of the ceremony, and as he's making final preparations, there's a knock on the door of his hotel room.  Upon opening it, there's an officer there that informs him that the last of the seven has been returned to Allied control.

He responds, "Give me 5 minutes and I'll be ready to go to the White House".

He recovers and remains in what would become the Air Force, retiring in 1971.  

Lt Col Michael passed away in 1994.

Rest in Peace, Warrior!

Lt Michael's Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B17 aircraft on a heavy-bombardment mission to Germany, 11 April 1944.
The group in which 1st Lt. Michael was flying was attacked by a swarm of fighters. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak. His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. 1st Lt. Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh.
Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off. The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of 3 cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries.
With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, 1st Lt. Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane.
Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator's gun at the enemy planes, 1st Lt. Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm. fragments and was useless. 1st Lt. Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing.
Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane. After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, 1st Lt. Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank.
Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. 1st Lt. Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness.
The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an RAF field near the coast. 1st Lt. Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap.
Primary Source:

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Crossing Rivers

24 June 1812, Napoléon's Grande Armée crosses the Niemen River.
The Invasion of Russia begins.
On this date in 1812, an army under the command of Napoléon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, crossed the Niemen River into territory controlled by the Czar of all the Russias, the Emperor Alexander I.

Napoléon's army was made up of Frenchmen, Poles, Italians (Napoléon was also the King of Italy), Neapolitans (Naples was not part of the Kingdom of Italy at that time), Rhinelanders, Badeners, Bavarians, Bergers, Saxons, Westphalians, Swiss, and Spaniards (his brother Joseph was the titular King of Spain, some Spaniards actually recognized that, some).

Soldiers of nations allied with (read previously conquered by) the French Empire also entered Russia alongside Napoléon, Austrians and Prussians, reluctant allies at best. The Danes were along as well. They sided with the French because the British Royal Navy had seen fit to destroy their fleet in 1807, To prevent it from falling into Napoléon's hands. Which they succeeded in doing, but at the cost of the Danish army (such as it was) joining forces with Napoléon.

This Grande Armée numbered approximately 685,000 men, 1,393 guns, and some 180,000 to 200,000 horses. It was a vast army marching into the Russian wilderness. An army used to campaigning in milder climes where farms and crops were plentiful. The French noticed, as the Germans did some 129 years later, that Russia seems to stretch on forever. Vast forests, dirt roads, primitive villages inhabited by peasants who had not really changed much since Ivan the Terrible ruled from the Kremlin.

The Imperial Russian Army which faced Napoléon consisted of some 488,000 men and 1,372 guns near the border with Western Europe. That army would, over the next few months, grow to some 900,000 trained soldiers and militia. Napoléon's army began to shed troops almost from the moment they crossed the Niemen.

The brown line = the Grande Armée going in.
The black line = the Grande Armée going out.
The thickness of the line indicates the strength of the army.
At first it was the heat of the Russian summer which began to kill men and horses. Then the rains came, the humidity climbed, then it was dry again. The logistics began to break down almost immediately. While the Emperor had made detailed logistical plans for  the campaign, virtually all of his generals, save one, ignored them. Marshal Davout, the Iron Marshal, made sure that his troops carried every last item the Emperor had specified. His troops were better prepared.

But not even the genius of Napoléon nor the iron will of Davout could have prepared the army for the vastness of Russia.

A battle was fought at Smolensk, but the Russians melted away again, refusing to stand. Some say it was planned that way, that Kutusov Bagration* (who commanded one of the Russian armies) was a genius who knew that if he traded space for time, eventually the French would be worn down and then the Russian Army and General Winter would finish the invaders.

Some say that the reality was that the two generals, Bagration and Barclay de Tolly, refused to coordinate their efforts therefore they had no choice but to fall back.

Regardless of where the truth lies (and I think it lies somewhere between the two extremes, as it usually does), the Grande Armée was withering as they moved forward, shedding men and horses, especially horses, as they moved deeper into Russia.

Finally, in September, the Russians made a stand at a small crossroads west of Moscow, at a place called Borodino. It was a bloodbath. Thousands were in the fight, thousands died, but the Russians held. Though they withdrew during the night, allowing Napoléon to claim a "victory," in reality it had been a devastating blow to the French.

When the army moved into Moscow, abandoned by the Russians before the French arrived, the city was deserted. Winter was approaching, the French were no nearer to bringing the Czar to negotiations than they were in June. Then the city began to burn.

Five weeks after entering Moscow, Napoléon had no choice but to fall back to the west. While he thought that perhaps there was still a chance at forcing Alexander to negotiate, in reality it was over. It would not end until the Russian cavalry were watering their horses in the Seine, in Paris itself, some two years, and thousands more deaths later.

Of course, it really didn't end until June of 1815, on the slopes of Mont-St-Jean in Belgium, but that was just a bitter postscript. Napoléon was doomed from the moment the first French soldier stepped onto the Russian side of the Niemen River, on the 22nd of June, 1812.

The cost was steep.

French Empire and her allies -
  • 340,000–400,000 dead
  • 50,000 wounded
  • 80,000 deserted
Russian Empire -
  • 210,000 dead
  • 150,000 wounded
  • 50,000 deserted
All told, some one million soldiers and civilians died in the Russian campaign of 1812. Seems tiny compared to the millions who died on the Eastern Front in World War II, unless you or a loved on was one of those one million dead. Not to mention the untold thousands injured and uprooted from their homes.

Only a fool invades Russia.

Late November 1812, the shattered remains of Napoléon's Grande Armée crosses the Berezina River.
The Invasion of Russia ends.

* It was actually Bagration and Barclay de Tolly who didn't get along. Thanks Jenk!