Sunday, July 5, 2020

Stopping to Smell the Roses...

I didn't feel like writing about war on Saturday, it was far too lovely a day. It was also Independence Day, a very quiet affair this year. Our town did continue the tradition of having a parade. It's over two centuries old, they weren't going to do it, then someone said, "Really? Abandon the tradition? What kind of Americans are we?"

We discovered what kind, the traditional kind, rather than shrug their shoulders and say "Oh well..." they came up with the idea of doing the parade using just vehicles. Sure we had the usual parade marshals, past and present, we actually had a Chosin Reservoir veteran (a topic I should write about some day), even a couple of bands. A fife and drum corps on the back of a truck, and a pipe band on a flatbed trailer.

It was small, but it was very American, no big crowds, just the townsfolk, but hey, the tradition continues. We're Americans damn it, we find a way. We improvise, we overcome, we adapt, Hell, sometimes we even plan things. (And yes, I stole that from a movie, I'll let you guess which one.)

Early in the week I put in two ten-hour days (Monday and Tuesday). Not because I'm gung ho or anything, but I woke up early, the sun was up, so I was too. Made some coffee and jumped right in, had things to do dontcha know?

Spent some time in the lab on Tuesday which was rather unproductive machine-wise but productive in a talk with my lead to see if I'm on the right track. He said I am, so I've got that going for me. 😁

My son and his two kids stopped by last Sunday, we had an excellent time, maintaining distance (so one grenade doesn't get all of us, er, I mean so we don't spread the -19) and wearing masks. Which to be honest the littlest of The Naviguessor's progeny wasn't all that thrilled with. Hey, she's seven going on eight, I'm 67 and I don't like it either!

But there it is, we do what we should, rather than what we have to, some governors apparently think they have the powers of a Persian satrap. They don't, but I'm all for a wee bit of common sense.

Bottom line for the week is that I wanted/needed/earned some time off. Thursday and Friday were off days because of the holiday, so I took Wednesday as PTO. Nothing like a long five-day weekend to boost morale!

Had a couple of dear friends from church swing by, we can take advantage of the big back yard to maintain separation. All masked up we had a nice hour chatting about this, that, and the other thing. We haven't seen them since March so it was nice to catch up.

So it's been a nice long and lazy week. Enjoying myself I am and trying hard to do as little as possible. For those who like that sort of thing, there is a four part series on Amazon Prime titled How to Command a Nuclear Submarine. It follows five prospective nuclear attack boat commanders through the Royal Navy's Perisher course. Four Brits and one Yank are followed as they go through this very challenging course. (Spoiler alert, not all of them make it to the end...)

The first part of the actual course is done on land, we get to watch the best (and most challenging) part of the course when the students actually go to sea and are put through their paces acting as commander of a Royal Navy nuclear attack boat. I highly recommend this if you have any interest in undersea warfare. (Which I do!)

There were backyard fireworks last night (and every bloody night for the past two weeks) which were really just a lot of whistling, shrieking, and banging. No real loud booms, but you can well imagine that the feline staff were not amused. They handle it well, but I daresay if left alone in a room with one of those pyro-types, the claws would come out.

Not roses, but lovely nevertheless...

I thought I had taken a picture of a hummingbird in this photo, damned if I could spot the little beastie. It was there before I snapped the shot, it was there after I snapped the shot. Where it was in the shot? I have no ideer...

These next flowers are portulaca, also know as moss roses. The pond, when it was much smaller, used to be surrounded by them, there are still some there, but the majority live here. One of my favorite flowers, if not the most favorite.

So there it is, the week of Independence Day. Quiet and relaxing, a good time to reflect.

God Bless America.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Our Sacred Honor

I suppose it isn't fashionable to speak of honor these days. So few seem to understand the concept and seemingly fewer still have any. I could be mistaken, but instead of roars of outrage, I see quiet, cowardly acquiescence to the strident and illogical demands of a tiny minority who wish nothing more than to see all that has been built by others torn down.

In a day and age of rudeness, spite, disorder, anarchy, and a desire to tear down all that many of us hold dear, I think back over the two-hundred and forty-four years of this country's existence. I think of the men and women, from all walks of life, who worked hard to build this nation. The soldier, the sailor, the factory worker, the farmer, the doctor, the nurse, the teacher, the firefighter, the police officer, and all the many others who get up each day and simply do their jobs.

I see the soldier dying on the field of battle, giving the last full measure so that freedom might not perish from this Earth.

I see young black men and women marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to demand just and equal treatment before the law for all men and women, regardless of color.

I see the farmer, praying for just the right amount of rain, carefully tending his crops so that others might be fed.

I see the police officer comforting the victim of a traffic accident, knowing that they are not going to make it, yet refusing to leave that person to die alone.

I see the firefighter go once more into a burning building to make sure that no one is left behind.

I see the doctors and nurses treating the sick and the injured, doing their best, often under trying circumstances, to heal and to comfort.

I see the teacher trying to give their students the means to succeed in a complex world.

Yes, there are those who aren't very good at their jobs, but this is America, the land of second chances, the land of hope. Americans don't quit, they keep striving.

On this day, as we commemorate our Independence from Great Britain, we must never cease to strive until ALL Americans have an equal shot at the American Dream. For those that want it, we need to ensure that the playing field is level.

Things are not as bad as some claim. Can they be better? Of course, we should always strive to make things better, never be content with what is, always ask, how can we make things better?

To those who built this Nation, I salute you.

To those who continue to work to keep Her strong, I'm with you.

Happy Independence Day!

In Congress, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Friday, July 3, 2020

On This Day...

Looking east from the Virginia Monument - Gettysburg
(Sara Nylund Photo)

I have combined two old posts for this year's remembrance of the 3rd of July at the Battle of Gettysburg. One from 2013 provided most of the artwork, the majority of the text comes from last year's post. That being said, I grew up learning that there were heroes and brave men on both sides of that war. As I get older, I realize that that holds true for most wars.

The attack by the Army of Northern Virginia upon the center of the Army of the Potomac that hot, humid day in 1863 was a forlorn hope. Robert E. Lee could not believe that his men could be defeated, the commander of his First Corps, James Longstreet, did not agree...
General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position. -- James Longstreet
He was right.

But, oh my Lord, those men were brave.

Rafe Jackson and Tom Benson were a couple of good old boys from Fairfax County, Virginia. They'd mustered into Captain James Thrift's company back in July of '61. Now known as "G" Company, 8th Virginia Infantry, commanded by Colonel Eppa Hutton. They'd seen a lot of hard action since the beginning of the war. They'd taken so many casualties that the Colonel always called the outfit "The Bloody Eighth."

Tom and Rafe were the only boys in "G" left from the old days, there were a lot of replacements these days but the regiment still had high morale and considered themselves to be in the "best damn brigade" in the Army of Northern Virginia, Garnett's Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett.

Court-martialed after Kernstown by old "Mad Tom" Jackson, Garnett, and his brigade had something to prove. Even if Jackson was dead, the Brigade still smarted from the insult to their commander's honor.

As they waited in the shelter of a copse of trees next to a wide field sloping upwards to a ridge a long way's off, the men waited for, as Rafe called it, the "day's festivities" to begin.

Tom just shook his head as Rafe, his childhood best friend, broke off a chaw and offered it to one of the greenhorns, kid looked like he was about to wet himself. Rafe chuckled and offered it to Tom instead. Tom took it and told Rafe to leave the young fellows be. Tom remembered First Manassas, he had wet himself at that one, as had a lot of other fellows.

The day was already terribly hot and Tom and Rafe were glad of the shade. Around 1 of the clock, Tom reckoned by the height of the sun, the Confederate guns started to thump. Looked like the bluebellies up on the ridge were going to catch Hell today!


"Rafe!" Tom nudged his buddy with the toe of his shoe, "Get up, look's like we's fixin' to advance."

Rafe Jackson got up onto one knee, doffed his kepi and mopped his brow, then he spit out the rest of his chaw, "Can't believe I fell asleep, Tom. What with all the ruckus from those cannon. We'ums ready to drive the bluebellies back to Washington?"

"Yup, I reckon so. There's our general on his horse, what's he thinking?"

Sergeant Parsons, a real hard case from the Alexandria docks, was walking by and heard Tom's remark, he smacked Benson on the back of the head and leaned into him, telling him:

"General's got a damned fever and he can barely walk, damned horse done kicked him. But he's not gonna sit this one out. Not with the ghost of old Mad Tom looking down on 'im. No sir, now you just keep your eyes to the front and do your damned job, Tom Benson. Or sure as Bobby Lee commands this army, I'll have your guts for garters!"

"More likely looking up!" Rafe chuckled as he nudged Tom in the ribs.

"I got my eye on you too, Jackson." He growled as he went further down the line, getting the laggards to their feet.

Now the commands were ringing out to form up. Rifles were shouldered, the lines were dressed, and the men made ready to advance. As they did so, old George Pickett himself thundered down the line on horseback waving his kepi in the air:

"Go get 'em boys! For the honor of Old Virginny! Let's drive those Yankees so hard they'll wish they'd never been born!"




The drums began to rumble and thump as the three brigades of Virginia infantry under Dick Garnett stepped out on the long march to the other side of the field. Glory awaited.

Pickett's charge from a position on the Confederate line looking toward the Union lines,
Ziegler's grove on the left, clump of trees on right.

Painting by Edwin Forbes

One of the first cannon rounds aimed their way took Sergeant Parson's head off at the shoulders. Bone, blood, and brain matter spattered the men in the nearby file. Parsons never felt a thing.

"Jesus, and here I've been telling folks that old Sarge didn't have any brains at all. Seems like he did after all!"

A young lieutenant behind the two Fairfax County boys began to vomit as more men fell around him.

"Rafe, ain't ya got no sentiment at'all?"

"Sure I do Tom, just not for sergeants." Turning to the young officer behind him who looked to be sick again, Rafe laughed and said, "Ya know lieutenant, you could get in a lotta trouble for puking up them army rations. Some fellers didn't get that much!"

The lieutenant stumbled again, looking to vomit once more, but this time it was blood pouring from his mouth as a piece of shell from a nearby burst had torn into his chest. He fell to the ground and died without a sound. He was only twenty years old.

"Close it up boys, close it up! We're damned near there!" The captain had his hat on the tip of his sword and was waving them forward. Sure enough, there was a wall up ahead with what had to be all the damned Yankees in the world behind it.

Tom saw old Dick Garnett fall to one knee, his hat was gone. Tom wondered what had happened to the general's horse. As he lowered his rifle, the world exploded.

Just before the light and the heat washed over him, he saw Rafe's grinning face one last time. Just before a Union artillery piece emptied its load of canister right in their faces. Rafe's body had shielded Tom from the worst effects of the canister, but the blast tore most of his uniform away and knocked him unconscious.

He didn't see the rest of the brigade fall, what few men left who weren't captured streamed back across the way they had come. Dead Confederates marking the way. For all intents and purposes, Pickett's Division had ceased to exist.

Of the 8th Virginia Infantry, only eleven men and one officer survived to fight another day. On April 6, 1865, the majority of the regiment was killed or surrendered at the Battle of Sayler's Creek. The surgeon and eleven privates who escaped that battle were paroled 3 days later following Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. (Source)

Private Rafael Jackson's body was never found, there was not enough left to be found. His kepi, found on the field by a ten-year old boy, survived in a cupboard on a nearby farm until 1978 when a new family moved in and threw the old moldering relic out. They had no idea what it was.

As for Private Thomas Benson, he survived Northern captivity and returned home to Fairfax County, Virginia, where he worked in a tavern until he died at the age of 46. He still carried a piece of steel from the blast which had killed his friend Rafe. One day, while moving a barrel of ale, the steel shifted, nicking his femoral artery. He was alone and bled out before he was even aware of his injury. Some local folks said he was the last casualty of Pickett's Charge.*
"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago...."
William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (Source)

Dedicated to the men who crossed that bloody field on the afternoon of the 3rd of July, 1863:

Heth's Division
(Isaac Trimble commanding)

Pettigrew's Brigade
11th North Carolina
26th North Carolina
47th North Carolina
52nd North Carolina

Archer's Brigade
13th Alabama
5th Alabama Battalion
1st Tennessee
7th Tennessee
14th Tennessee

Davis's Brigade
2nd Mississippi
11th Mississippi
42nd Mississippi
55th North Carolina

Brockenbrough's Brigade
47th Virginia
40th Virginia
55th Virginia
22nd Virginia Battalion

Lane's Brigade
7th North Carolina
18th North Carolina
33rd North Carolina
28th North Carolina
37th North Carolina

Scale's Brigade
13th North Carolina
16th North Carolina
22nd North Carolina
34th North Carolina
38th North Carolina

Pickett's Division

Armistead's Brigade
9th Virginia
14th Virginia
38th Virginia
53rd Virginia
57th Virginia

Garnett's Brigade
8th Virginia
18th Virginia
19th Virginia
28th Virginia
56th Virginia

Kemper's Brigade
1st Virginia
3rd Virginia
7th Virginia
11th Virginia
24th Virginia

Anderson's Division

Wilcox's Brigade
8th Alabama
9th Alabama
10th Alabama
11th Alabama
14th Alabama

Perry's Brigade
2nd Florida
5th Florida
8th Florida

Long may their memory be bright.

50 Years After the Battle, On the Same Field

Remember them, honor them.

* Rafael Jackson, Thomas Benson, and Sergeant Parsons are all fictional characters.

The 2013 post
The 2019 post

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Gettysburg and Other Things

The Gettysburg Battlefield in 2019

One hundred and fifty-seven years ago, two great armies clashed in the fields around the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. It was part of the great struggle which would largely determine the course of this Nation of ours. Some hundred and four thousand men wore the blue uniform of the Union, some seventy-five thousand wore the gray and butternut of the Confederacy.

There were many issues which led to that war. Feckless politicians then, as now, could have acted differently to have avoided all of the blood shed during those years from April 1861 to April of 1865. Some still hold the loyalties from that conflict close to their hearts, rightly or wrongly, that isn't for me to say. But that war is over and has been over for a long time.

I can never let these three days, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of July pass without giving some thought to that battle.

The 1st of July saw the build-up of forces in the vicinity of Gettysburg, oddly enough the Southerners advanced towards the town from the northwest, while the northerners advanced from the southeast. The reasons for that are not really relevant to this blog post, there are many sources where you can read about that yourselves.

The 2nd of July saw Longstreet's Corps attempt to turn the Union left flank, and fail.

The 3rd?

Let us just say that the valor displayed, on both sides, on the 3rd of July, 1863, was monumental. I shall speak of that tomorrow.

There were brave men and capable commanders on both sides of that war. They fought for their beliefs, however misguided some of those beliefs may have been. One thing I will never forget is that they were all Americans. (While some foreign adventurers did serve on both sides, their numbers were statistically insignificant.)

They fought hard and many of them died hard. Many suffered from their wounds and their experiences for the rest of their lives. Folks just can't seem to understand that for many soldiers the war continues, even after the last gun has sounded and all the documents have been signed. The things they saw, the things they survived, the memories of friends lost haunt the soldier. Some handle it better than others.

With all the current turmoil occurring in parts of the country (not everywhere, not even close) we should take a moment to remember the men who fought, and died, at Gettysburg. It is part of our history and always will be, no matter how badly some cowardly group of snot-nosed, filthy, uneducated, communist nitwits want to destroy that history. Remember, their endgame is to destroy the United States, ours is to preserve, support, and defend our liberties and our rights against those who would tear us down.

Again, feckless politicians, on both sides of the aisle, are not doing enough to contain, control, and eliminate these threats to our freedoms. They worry about re-election, that's it. A pox on their houses.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
-- Abraham Lincoln
Nov. 19, 1863

I'm stepping away from my tale of Normandy for a couple of days. While the fighting continues, there are no major historical events which occurred on the 2nd and 3rd of July 1944 in which our characters are involved. They are all in reserve and awaiting further orders.

Tomorrow I will be commemorating Pickett's Charge by rerunning two posts, one from 2013, which is mostly pictures, and the other from last year. That latter post was another piece of historical fiction I wrote which I had forgotten about. I need an administrative assistant...

As to the name of the new vehicle, she has one, it was one of those things which occurs and then just feels right afterward. Though I must admit, it ain't very clever, but it fits.

Her name is Blue.

The other day I had to run an errand and after jumping into the car I just said, "Ready to go, Blue?" It just sort of happened. You might say it was completely out of the blue. So to speak.

Up until Big Girl, I considered all my cars to be "he." Why, I have no idea. Not all of them had names. Now Big Girl came to me as a gift and The Nuke had already been calling her by that name. Perhaps I have been completely indoctrinated to the "Navy way," where all ships are "she." (Interestingly, in the Russian Navy they are "he.") So I just consider Blue to be a she. Go figure.

So, enjoy the benefits of liberty, remember those who fought for it, those who worked hard for it, and those who gave their lives for it. They were of all races, creeds, and colors, they all bled the same color.

Remember them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The 1st of July, 1944 - D + 25, Five Pyres

Panzerkampfwagen IV of the 9th SS Panzer Division

Their vehicle was well concealed, SS-Scharführer Friedrich Engel, the commander, had made sure of that. Recently promoted, this was his first time in command of his own panzer. His crew were fairly experienced, but very young, they had all served on the Eastern Front, most recently in the attack at Tarnopol to breakthrough to Hube's encircled 1st Panzer Army. The division had been successful but had suffered heavy casualties.

They had only arrived in Normandy a few days ago, though they had begun the trip west on the 12th of June. Allied airpower had harassed the division along the route and they had lost a number of tanks, many had broken down. Engel had heard at least 50% of their vehicles had broken down. But word of reinforcements in the form of seventy-plus Panthers and an SS heavy tank battalion of Tigers had boosted everyone's spirits.

They had been sent to attack British forces in the vicinity of Caen but had to be diverted when British armor managed to force a crossing over the Odon River southwest of Caen. Their division, 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen," were thrown into the mix, just barely arrived from the East, they had to fight or perish.

Wisely, their commanders had decided to await the Tommies from ambush. Engel had heard that the Sherman tanks were easy meat for their 7.5 cm cannon.

"Scharführer, do you think we'll get a chance to do some sightseeing while we're in Normandy?" SS-Schütze Josef "Sepp" Horn was the youngest man in the crew, he was barely 17 and had actually been drafted into the SS from the Labor Corps. As assistant driver he operated the bow machine gun and made sure the radio worked.

SS-Sturmmann Wilhelm Ziegler, the loader, started laughing, "Seriously Sepp, do you think the Führer sent us to France for a rest period? Haven't you heard the Amis and the Tommies have landed? We're here to throw them back into the Channel!"

"At ease boys, stay alert. We're expecting company any minute." Engel admonished his crew, they were so young and knew so little of life. As he eased his head out of his cupola and brought his field glasses up, two big single engined aircraft¹, with black and white stripes painted on their wings and fuselage blasted overhead, headed west. Involuntarily he ducked back down into the turret, the enemy Jabos terrified him.

British Sherman VC

James Fitzhugh held tight as his driver, Thomas Ginns, drove their Sherman VC over a low spot in the hedgerow. They were getting closer to open country and while the mobility was great, he felt a bit naked out there after so many weeks in the closed in country of the Bocage.

He turned to watch the rest of his troop, which Chapman and Seckington (his gunner and loader) continued to refer to as the Lambs, as in sacrificial, regardless of how many times Fitzhugh had told them to stop. They were smart enough not to use the terms around the chaps manning the Sherman Vs with their short 75 mm cannon. A useful weapon but nothing like the 17-pounder gun they carried.

Over the radio Fitzhugh ordered the troop to wedge formation. "Move to the next field, sharply now!"

Engel couldn't believe his eyes, five Shermans in the open. He chose the vehicle on his right as he was on his platoon's right flank, his men knew to target their opposite numbers in situations like this.

Eye pressed to the sight, SS-Rottenführer Hans-Dieter Vogt yelled out, "Target acquired!"


The round left the tube and drilled straight into the Sherman's lower hull on the driver's side. The enemy vehicle immediately slewed right into a ditch near an old barn.

Knocked out Sherman

The driver was screaming in agony, the enemy round had hit the transmission which had shot fragments into the man's legs.

"Tommy, help John!"

The commander could smell something burning, the shot had gone straight through the vehicle, destroying the transmission and the engine. Fuel was spilling onto the hot engine, he knew that they only had seconds to get out.

"Tommy!" He turned to look at his loader, or what was left of him. The German anti-tank round had ricocheted from the transmission and right through Corporal Thomas Jensen. His gunner was struggling to get out of his position to try and get to John Parsons, the driver.

He noticed that Parsons was no longer screaming.

"He's a dead'un Sarge! We need to get out of the bloody tank, she's on fire!" the gunner, Lance Corporal Burt Johnson screamed at his tank commander.

"Let's go!"

Sgt Winston Montgomery and LCpl Burt Johnson got out of the tank just as the engine compartment burst into flame. His bow gunner, Pvt Kenneth Wilkins was already on the ground, away from the tank. "Sarge, Burt, over here!" Montgomery noticed that the man had his Sten gun with him. The kid was thinking.

Fitzhugh saw his left flank Sherman lurch to a stop and begin to smoke in his peripheral vision. He didn't have time to ponder the crew's fate as he'd spotted the muzzle blast from an enemy tank to his left front. They were taking fire from the tree line and he'd lost one tank already. But his lads were returning fire.

Cecil Chapman, his gunner, yelled out over the intercom, "Jesus Fitzy, it's a bloody Tiger! I've got him, firing!!"

The round from the big 17-pounder gun flew straight and true.

Knocked out Pzkw IV

"Mein Gott!" screamed SS-Scharführer Friedrich Engel as the shot from the British tank penetrated the left side of the gun mantlet on his tank and passed through the turret, hitting the ready ammunition as it passed out the right side of the vehicle. Those were Engel's last words.

The ammunition in the turret detonated, blowing all the hatches open and shredding the skirts bolted to the turret's exterior. The explosion killed all three men in the turret, the shock wave from that explosion killed the driver instantaneously. It had also jammed the bow gunner's hatch as he struggled to open it.

Before Sepp Horn burned to death, another explosion in the stored ammunition under the turret floor killed him and blew the right side of the tank open to the air.

Another tank in Fitzhugh's troop was now burning, but his gunner had killed a second Panzer IV, "Not a Tiger you bloody git," he'd yelled at his gunner. But Chapman was far too busy to pay him any mind as the 17-pounder barked and turned another Jerry tank into a funeral pyre.

Over the radio his number three tank reported a thrown track. As he figured his next move he saw movement in the tree line, the Germans were pulling back. The Sherman VC, what some called the Firefly, had surprised them.

"Hold here! Jonesy get your tank over to that hummock and watch that road. We'll cover Benson while he repairs his track. Any survivors any of you can see?"

Jonesy reported that he could see three survivors from Montgomery's tank. He didn't think that anyone had gotten out of Mitchell's tank. which was burning furiously.

Columns of smoke from five destroyed vehicles rose into the humid air. While the British had come out on top, they had still lost two tanks and seven men from their troop. The Germans had not fared as well, three of their tanks were burning and the fires had spread to the trees they'd been positioned within.

Fitzhugh couldn't have known, but only one German crewman of fifteen made it out of his tank alive. Badly burned he surrendered to Benson's crew just before the troop moved back for the night. He would survive the war but would lose an arm.

The fighting to capture Caen would continue...

¹ They were P-47 Thunderbolts, Jugs.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The 30th of June, 1944 - D + 24, One Step Forward...

Men of the 8th Battalion, Royal Scots move forward past a Humber Scout Car of 31st Tank Brigade during Operation Epsom

Jacques Brisbois and his daughter Juliet were awake early, though some of their cows were dead from the shelling, bombing, and strafing over the past weeks, they still had twenty-three left. They all needed to be milked and cows do not care what time it is. As they finished up in the barn, Juliet looked across their pasture towards the hedgerow marking the boundary of their farm and the next.

"Papa, soldiers. I think they are English." Juliet told her father, soldiers made her nervous. A German had raped her a year ago, while his own army seemingly let him off with only a mild punishment, the Maquis were not so forgiving. The young man, brutalized by the fighting on the Eastern Front, disappeared in late April of this year. From what Jacques had discovered, the man had been a very bad soldier. Not even his colleagues missed him.

The Germans searched for him, roughed up a few of the villagers where he had been stationed. They eventually assumed that the man had deserted and stopped looking for him. The Maquis knew there was no body to be found. Gaston Renard's pigs were always hungry, they were also very thorough.

"Oui ma fille, ils sont Anglais.¹ Continue with your work, I will see what they want."

Le Haut du Bosq
Google Street View

Sgt Billy Wallace and his squad were on the alert, they had been ordered up to support the Royal Scots the day before but a stiff German counterattack had driven the Royal Scots back, so they had had to fall back as well. Now this morning they were moving back once again, towards Le Haut du Bosq according to their company commander. He could have told them they were falling back to the Moon, one hedgerow, one Norman farm, looked pretty much like any other after three weeks of nearly constant fighting.

Wallace looked over his squad, they'd lost one wounded, one missing, probably dead, and three more killed four days ago. One of the less experienced platoons in the battalion had been broken up and the men distributed to the platoons which were understrength, like theirs.

The new men were Pvt Seamus Hume, Pvt Jackie Ramsay, Pvt Hugh Souter, and Pvt Jamie Fraser. One of the new men, Ramsay, was from Wallace's own town of Kilmalcolm, though he didn't know the lad personally, he knew who his family were, solid folk. As for the others, he wondered if he should bother learning their names. The men he lost in the fight for St. Mauvieu were already fading in his memory.

"Sarn't, we've got company, a civvy from the look of him." Jock Campbell had noticed what had to be a French farmer coming towards them.

"Hello Englishmen, I am Jacques Brisbois, this is my farm. Is there anything I can do for you? I am with the résistance, a bas les Boches!"

"Right then Monsieur Brisbois. Seen any, uh, Boche lately?" Sgt Wallace asked.

"Bloody Hell Billy, we're not the bloody English. Hey laddie boy, we're Scots, ya know Écossais." Lance Corporal Rutherford was deeply offended that anyone would think that he was English.

"Wheesht wi' ye Gavin. I doubt he knows the difference." As Wallace turned back to the farmer. He heard the sound of mortars firing, had to be Jerries.

"Cover!! It's a bloody stonk!"

The men scattered and hugged any fold in the ground for protection. The farmer turned and sprinted towards his farm yelling, "Follow me!" He had to protect his daughter.

"Hold!" Wallace commanded. When the enemy mortar rounds impacted some hundred yards behind them he yelled, "Up, let's go!"

The men reached the farm building as the German mortars continued to tear up the field they had been in, no doubt the Jerries were firing at a map coordinate and didn't have a spotter. Just harassment fire Wallace figured.

Waffen SS Mortar Crew
"Rounds complete Scharführer!"

"Secure from firing!" The big SS sergeant turned to the company runner and sent him back to the company CP² with the admonishment that they needed more ammunition, they were down to their last few rounds.

"I'll tell them!" then the runner jumped from the fighting position and headed back to the CP. When he was maybe fifty meters away, the mortar team leader heard the sound of a diving aircraft.

"Get down! Junge," shouting to the runner, "take cover! Jabo!"

But it was too late, the rounds from the big Hawker Typhoon's four 20 mm cannon straddled the mortar crew's position and walked right over the runner who had desperately swerved at the last minute, to no avail. It was only a single round which hit him, but it tore him nearly in half.

"Scheiße!" screamed the Scharführer. Then he heard the whistling of incoming bombs. One impacted directly on the mortar team. There had been two Typhoons, not one.


Looking at the map above, one can see that Sgt Brandt's division, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, part of the American V Corps, is still slugging it out hedgerow to hedgerow against the German 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division to the northwest of Caumont. (The link above will take you to a higher resolution map.) His company is out of the line for the moment. Also note that the Americans are getting very close to Saint-Lô. The breakout is not too far in the future at this point.

Sgt Billy Wallace's unit, the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, in the 44th (Lowland) Brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Division of the British Army, is assigned to VIII Corps who are inching slowly, and painfully, towards Carpiquet Airfield. They are also starting to get in the rear of the Germans defending Caen, which Monty had hoped to seize on D-Day itself. The fall of that city, or what's left of it, is close.

Yet another laconic entry in 6 RSF's war diary reads -
Le Haut du Bosq
30 June 1944 0600 - 1400 Hours
In the early morning at about 0600 hrs the Bn moved back to an orchard in the village of LE HAUT DU BOSQ where it remained till the afternoon.
At about 1400 hrs the Bde took up an anti-Panzer hedgehog in the vicinity of 905660 with 6 RSF in reserve area. Intermittent mortaring took place during the night.
CR Buchanan
Commanding 6th Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers 
Field Marshal Montgomery is beginning to worry about the casualties his infantry are taking, the Prime Minister has already warned him that the supply of soldiery was not inexhaustible. The only good thing he could report is that his Second Army was tying down at least five panzer divisions, three of them SS divisions. The Germans were also suffering, but damn it, he needed Caen!

The Orchard near Le Haut du Bosq
Google Street View

¹ Yes my daughter, they are English.
² Command post.