Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Favorite" Battles

Wellington's march from Quatre Bras to Waterloo
Ernest Crofts

(Source)
So the other day I was thinking about my favorite battles...

Uh, Sarge, what do you mean "favorite battles," like favorite color, favorite flavor of ice cream?

Well, sort of. Truth be told, I've been referring to Waterloo as my "favorite" battle for years, probably since I was a little kid. Now as an historian (a title I claim as an amateur, I have a history hobby, if you will), I often get deep into the facts, the who, what, when, where, why, and how of things. I see these as distant events which took place in foreign lands and/or different times (sometimes not that long ago, sometimes long, long ago). Often I gloss over the fact that real live people were involved in these events.

Aftermath of Waterloo
(Source)
Many of those people did not survive those events, many others had their lives changed forever, often in less than pleasant ways. Imagine if you will being an old soldier back "in the day" who had lost both legs in battle, consigned to living in the streets and begging for the remainder of your existence.

The colorful uniforms (which seldom looked the same on campaign as they did on the parade ground, on campaign these were often faded, tattered, and covered in mud!), the drill, the tactics, and the strategy all tend to drown out the voices of those who actually fought the battles.

So there are times that I have to remind myself, that while there are battles and campaigns which I prefer to study, or have a greater interest in then others, I need to refrain from calling them "favorites." As a soldier, your favorite battle is the the one you survive unharmed. Win or lose, coming away whole in mind and in body is the thing, one always hopes that it was your last battle as well.

All that being said, the battles and campaigns I have spent the most time studying (so I guess that they would be favored over other battles and campaigns, i.e. my "favorites") are, in no particular order -
  • The Waterloo Campaign of 1815
  • The Gettysburg Campaign of 1863
  • The Battle of the Bulge in 1944
  • The Normandy Campaign of 1944
  • The Battle of the Frontiers in 1914
  • The Eastern Front in World War II
  • The North Africa Campaign, 1941 - 1943
  • The Air Campaign in the European Theater
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Midway
  • The Campaigns of Alexander the Great
  • The Campaigns of Frederick the Great
I'm sure there are more that I'm forgetting.

Still and all, I need to come up with a better way of describing my "favorite" battles. The word "favorite" just seems to trivialize the sacrifices entailed in those events.

As I get older, I think that maybe I tend to over-think things. As opposed to my youth when I would plunge in with hardly any thought at all.

Odd that.


Surprise, surprise... (Yup, more headers.)

C. M. Russell, When The Land Belonged to God


C. M. Russell, The Custer Fight

USS The Sullivans (DD-537)


USS Connecticut (BB-18)


Charles Schreyvogel, My Bunkie


A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry (HIC FRANCI PUGNANT ET CECIDERUNT QUI ERANT CUM HAROLDO)


I also modified two others per juvat's suggestion -


This one...


or this one...


Still not that easy to discern the blog title, but blurring or covering the background was just ugly. This seems better. Juvat?

Okay, squeezed in one more, I mean how can you not love a guy who's last name translates to "Beer City"?

Albert Bierstadt, detail from Mount Corcoran


While the header format is just too short to display the full magnificence of Bierstadt's work, you can see some of it. (Click on this link to see the whole work, you won't regret it.)

No doubt someone will suggest yet another topic for a header. The folks in the Header Production Department thank you, after all your efforts keep them employed. (Juvat, Beans, and Tuna, you may notice a slight decrease in your paychecks this month, someone has to pay for those headers. 🙄)




52 comments:

  1. The entire Guadalcanal campaign... Littoral warfare at it's fiercest, bloodiest, grittiest. Lessons about complacence, great valor, tech advantage squandered or used to great effect. Especially valuable in times of returning Pacific great powers rivalry...

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    1. A fascinating campaign. Indeed, it has things to teach us today.

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    2. Which allows the header guy to toss in the painting of the event that the only Coastie to get the MOH was in. Covering a beach extraction with a Lewis gun, giving his life for the lives of so many Marines. Oorah Coast Guard!

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    3. I looked for a larger size of that painting, no dice. The Art Department let me down.

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  2. For some reason, I’m partial to that last one. I wonder if that’s anyone I know?

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    1. I can't decide if it is a bear...or a wild boar...either way it is a lovely picture. I am leaning toward a black bear, just cause...

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    2. Zoomed in I can see it's a bear. No, not you a bear, a different bear. 😁

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  3. And behind those campaigns, are the small, unsung, actions that brought great kinetic forces together.

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  4. Aye, the dark print shows a bit better with that mostly white background. Gonna second Pawel's Guadalcanal campaign vote and push for the Battle of Britain campaign. Liking that Sullivans header...... a fast ship going in harms way to paraphrase that movie line and John Paul Jones.

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    1. I'm surprised I forgot to add the Battle of Britain to the list, not to mention the Battle for France in 1940, and the Battle of the North Atlantic.

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  5. Maybe refer to them as the "Most Interesting to me". I'm the same, after I think about it, I can see a few ways to do better. Or maybe just different. The fact you consider the cost to humanity is good enough for me. I know where you are coming from.

    Lately, I've read some about the Pacific theater. It seems the fanaticism of the Japanese, and disregard for their enemy's humanity parallels the folks we've be chasing all over creation since 2001. I see similar patterns of behavior. What it took to stop that in the 40's... We don't have enough steel spines in places that matter to finish this one, I fear. Maybe because we played instead of hammering hard while the will was there. Hammering hard enough to make a group think twice before they did that again, even to an individual.

    Sun Tzu said don't fight an opponent too long. And we have, IMNSHO. Hey look!! Another side-track!!

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    1. Concur on all. This latest group of fanatics needs to be put down, hard. We've been playing around the edges of that problem for centuries.

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    2. The US Army's official history of the Pacific is fascinating (but kind of dull) reading. They did a smart thing and in the late 40's and early 50's assigned a bunch of historians who also had time in the Army to go through all the paperwork and interview people about specific actions. Which resulted in the keeping of institutional knowledge that could have gotten lost in time.

      My favorite is "The Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls."

      Though the series is about the Army's roll in the PTO, it covers Navy amd Marines assigned under the command of the Army, so you get Marines storming island like Roi-Namur (and experiencing a semi-nuclear event when some naval gunfire blew up a torpedo magazine that was full of torpedoes) and the roll of naval aviation, gunfire and transport played in the Army's campaigns.

      The Marines followed in a few years but because they often were seconded to Army command, a lot of the stuff dealing with logistics and background preparation isn't as thorough as in the Army's histories.

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    3. As I recall, the Navy handles most of the Corps' logistics. In the Pacific the Army and the Navy ruled the roost.

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    4. I second STxAR and Sun Tzu--hit 'em hard, especially if they hit first. Ya gave 'em a free shot, now teach them the lesson to not even THINK about it ever, NEVER, again!! Because if ya put the fear of God in them from the git-go, it should save blood and treasure in the long term.

      Bullies always pick on whoever they think of as prey. Don't be prey!!

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  6. Bierstadt is one of my 'favorite' painters (see what I did there?) - and pictures in books or even larger posters of his works don't do justice to the originals. I saw one of his whose subject was the Sierra Nevada, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts a number of years ago. I was gobsmacked - it was a 6 foot by 10 foot work that you felt you could just walk into and be in the mountains, smelling the fresh air and reveling in the magnificence of the scenery. (sorry, I got carried away, but it was really amazing!)

    As for battle history, what always is interesting is how much those battles' outcomes hinge on one or two key events. Sometimes those events are made possible by planning and preparation, other times they are the result of sheer bravery on the part of individuals or small groups, and still other times it seems like pure chance plays a part. But always, luck favors the prepared and trained.

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    1. Luck does indeed favor the prepared and trained, an excellent observation.

      Bierstadt's work is amazing, never heard of him before this week.

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  7. One more thing - no Revolutionary War battles in the favorites list? Kinda made a lot of the rest of the list possible ...

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    1. Lexington/Concord, Bunker Hill, Trenton, Saratoga...

      Man, I need to pay attention when creating lists!

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    2. A painting of that fat guy's stunning achievement of getting cannon from Ticonderoga to Boston is one of my favorites. Pulling cannon through rugged country using oxen and men. What a stunning achievement of spirit and leadership by Henry Knox.

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    3. Finding the right size is the key, expand it too much artificially and it looks like crap. But I'll dig...

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  8. I really like that photo of the destroyer The Sullivans. There is a sort of halfway museum in Waterloo, IA in honor of the five Sullivan brothers who died when their cruiser was sunk, and there was a movie made in about 1944 on the subject.

    My father and 5 of his brothers served in WWII (2 Army, 2 Navy, 2 Army Air Corps. For that matter, my mother was a WAC during the war.

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    1. I found that painting and had to include it.

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    2. The Fletcher class definitely carried a load during the war.
      It’s fitting that one represents the Tin Cans.

      It’s difficult to single out any one battle in the Pacific because they’re all tied together even though we’ll separated by geography.

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    3. The USS The Sullivans (DD-537) is a museum ship in New York state.
      The museum is closed for the season and will reopen in late March.
      https://buffalonavalpark.org/

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    4. Skip - I chose the Fletcher class precisely for that reason.

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    5. John - I had no ideer.

      Buffalo is "only" about 466 miles from here. Definitely not a day trip, but we could Niagara Falls as well. This I could sell to The Missus Herself. Probably...

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    6. The USS Slater (DE-766) is a museum ship in Albany, NY.
      She's getting some drydock time in the spring, and is supposed to open for visitors in early May of 2020.
      https://ussslater.org/index.html

      Albany would be pretty much on your direct route to the Falls, and seeing The Sullivans.



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    7. Now that sounds like a trip! She's the last of her kind.

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  9. On the Bulge header, how about using the upper right corner instead? Black letters should show up well there.

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    1. Not a bad idea...

      But the title has always been in the upper left. 🙄

      Of course, the old "we've always done it that way," makes me want to do just what you say.

      More experiments in the offing...

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  10. Opposite Ike on the other side of the tank, Moriarty is yelling at Oddball. "I told you it was a piece of junk!"

    You're the guy that everyone wants to do a Battlefield Walk with Sarge. Perhaps you could meet me in France when I've finished my little stroll? And with that stroll in mind, any great battlefields I should appreciate between John o' Groats and Land's End?

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    1. Hahaha, I can hear Moriarty saying just that!

      There's a few: Culloden, Hastings, Edgehill, for that matter any battle of the English Civil War. Hadrian's Wall would grab my attention (as it did my ancestors).

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    2. Don't forget some of the great military museums in the U.K. - tanks and planes and arms and ships

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    3. Bovington Tank Museum springs immediately to mind!

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    4. Hadrian's Wall is right in the way, so I'll certainly cross it and have a good look. I've also planned my route to include Yeovilton, where the Fleet Air Arm Museum lives. Then I'm going to have to get a work visa so I can travel around as an itinerant bumbershoot salesman and visit all the other museums, battlefields, and historical sites. If I time things right and if the demons don't take control of and destroy America, my SS retirement income will allow me to give up the brolly sales and travel in style.

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    5. When you do cross Hadrian's Wall, don't look the Romans in the eye.

      Oh wait, that's right, they left Britain some time ago...

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  11. +5 on the Battle Of The Frontiers which is REALLY interesting, in a blood drenched sort of way

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    1. Yes, yes indeed. World War One before everyone dug in, a fascinating period. But yeah, bloody.

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    2. The casualties incurred in the Battle of The Frontiers defy belief. I suppose it's what happens when 19th century tactics meets 20th century technology, mind you I don't think many of the men who started fighting in 1914 appreciated how quick the technology would develop. I don't think French casualty figures for the opening period of the war have ever been confirmed but I've seen figures of c329,000 for the first month of the war and a total French casualty figure of about a million from the start of the war to the end of 1914, if you think that France suffered 1.7 million deaths in WW1 from a smaller population base than GB it's no wonder they suffered psychologically.
      22nd August 1914 c27,000 French dead is given. It's often forgotten in the UK that France did most of the heavy lifting on the Western Front until 1916.
      Retired

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    3. The casualties incurred by France in World War I go far towards explaining the French collapse in 1940.

      The casualties in the opening months of 1914 were appalling. Your remark of "what happens when 19th century tactics meets 20th century technology" is spot on!

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    4. Or 18th Century meeting 19th. E.g. Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Chickamauga....

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    5. Generals do like being ready for the last war.

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  12. Sarge, check out these battles:

    The Battle For Leyte Gulf, Woodward
    The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, Hornfischer
    Matterhorn (novel) Marlantes

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    1. I need to re-read Matterhorn - a brilliant book.

      I'm very familiar with the Battle of Leyte Gulf and have read three of Hornfischer's books.

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  13. I thought as much. As a hobbyist historian you probably don't miss many. I became interested in Leyte Gulf when I met an older gentleman, an Aviation tin bender chief aboard CVE 70, Fanshaw Bay, during that battle, and many others. He passed a couple years ago. An immigrant from Finland, by the way.

    Matterhorn may be my favorite read of any genre. Blew me away.

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    1. My oldest daughter had to do a report on the Battle of Leyte Gulf in high school, she picked the topic because she knew I had a couple of books on the topic. 😁

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)