Friday, July 10, 2020

Research is Hard

Rijksmuseum Research Library

So yes, I left you, the readers, hanging yesterday. I didn't want to follow that post with another the next day (that would be today) telling you what happened, I wanted to let the story line simmer a bit. Truth be told, I've been keeping a lot of characters alive because I like them. Which in the realm of combat is rather unrealistic. It was time for Brandt's Boys to take some hits.

Now the chaps in the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, led by Sergeant Billy Wallace have taken a number of casualties over this series of posts. That's because historically, that particular battalion took heavy casualties in the British drive to seize the city of Caen. Something which Field Marshal Montgomery thought could be accomplished no later than the evening of D-Day itself. (Yes, he was wrong.)

Well, it's been more than a month since D-Day and the British are just now capturing the ruins of Caen. As the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division was not directly involved in the fight for Caen, I won't be covering that except to mention it in passing.

So far some of the heaviest fighting has occurred around Caen, multiple German armored divisions were involved, the terrain wasn't as closed in as the hedgerow country the Americans are slogging through. As for that hedgerow country, Generals Omar Bradley and Joe Collins had this to say:
As early as 8 June, General Bradley called the Bocage the "damndest country I've seen." General Collins of VII Corps was equally surprised by the nature of the hedgerow terrain and told General Bradley on 9 June that the Bocage was as bad as anything he had encountered on Guadalcanal. (Source)
So far for Sgt Brandt and his squad there have been no grand events, only the slog forward through this environment where around every corner is another German machine gun or sniper. As members of the Big Red One (the American 1st Infantry Division), I initially thought that finding material on the activities of that division would be easy.

I was wrong.

Most of the accounts I can find online deal with the 1st on D-Day, with damned little to follow them through the hedgerow country. While I was fortunate with finding the War Diaries of the 15th Scottish online, I have yet to find anything on the American 1st which doesn't involve acquiring paper copies from the National Archives.

It's been my experience so far that the British and the French were far better at documenting the entire campaign, not just the D-Day landings, at least online. Which is probably why I had Sgt Brandt's squad on the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, which in reality the 1st was nowhere near. It's also why Sgt Wallace's Lowland Scots were in Normandy well in advance of their division!

Sometimes you have to bend the rules in order to make a good story. Having been part of operations which the rest of my Wing had nothing to do with¹, I see these things happening as plausible, even if they didn't really happen.

From this point forward I think I'm going to abandon the day-by-day D + whatever format which seems to have worked so far, but has been somewhat restrictive to my story telling. (What do you mean the 6th RSF are still in the rear? I haven't written of them for days now!) This will also give me the opportunity to start filling in the backstory on a lot of these characters. In addition to introducing more, I note that I have sorely neglected the aviators so far, I mean there was a brief appearance by a pair of Tiffies², but I crave more.

I also need to take a day or two to take what I have written so far and put it all in one big document. See how it all hangs together, and see where there are spots I need to fill in in order to make this exercise an actual book, not just a series of vignettes.

We'll see how that goes.

As to research, a couple of you have noticed things, such as white stars on British tanks. That really was a thing, sometimes you have to trust what the Internet caption reads, of course, a lot of that is based on the reliability of the website where you found the picture! Some websites are horrible, "Knocked out Tiger tank," - um, no, that's a Panther. Fortunately I am very conversant with the equipment used in WWII in the ETO, but even I can be fooled at times. (In other words, keep those corrections coming! Mike the EE noted that Corporal Wilson's first name went from Jack to Dave, since corrected, but it's easy to get lost in the details.)

Finding pictures of Germans who were not in the SS is another challenge, there is a certain element in the West who are infatuated with the uniforms, equipment, and activities of the Waffen SS, which was not a branch of the Wehrmacht but a separate entity all together. They did fight under Wehrmacht control, you can't really have private armies charging around, but were separate organizationally. They tended to get better equipment because they really were the Nazi Party's armed forces. Anyhoo, while Army heavy tank battalions operated in Normandy, the SS gets most of the press.

There are three good sources for pictures of WWII, the U.S. Army Signal Corps took a lot of photos during the war, most (if not all) GI pictures you've seen here were taken by them. I have noticed, online of course, that there are purveyors of photographs, for money of course, who have laid claim to photos taken by the Signal Corps (just chop the Signal Corps crossed flags* from the photo and bingo, some yahoo thinks he "owns" it). I've seen the same with photos from the Bundesarchiv (the German National Archives) which some "service" claims "they own it." If I can find the photo with the Bundesarchiv logo, then I know they're charlatans. Many photos which someone is willing to sell on the Internet are photos of reenactors. In other words they're fake. Some reenacting units uniforms look pretty good, too bad many of their "soldiers" don't look like soldiers. (A 400 pound dude in a Marine uniform is a sad, sad thing.) The British, again, are very good with available, public domain type photos.

So, I will keep charging on, unless the views go way down, which so far, they have not.

As to that shot from the sniper? Remember, he has buddies nearby whose mission is to delay and discomfit the advancing Americans. Brandt's Boys really need to keep their heads on swivels for the next episode at least.

Carry on...

¹ Picture a single C-130 Hercules from Kadena AB, Okinawa, loaded with equipment and about fifty maintenance guys, following six fully loaded F-4D Phantoms up to Korea. We landed at Kunsan AB while our jets hit the bombing range. When they landed we handled any maintenance issues, which for us were nil, and back to Okinawa we went. That was the sole involvement of the 18th TFW. It was kinda cool. FWIW, we WCS guys were the only ones who made it off base. The others all wondered where we bought all the stuff we hauled back on the C-130! The whole operation lasted, IIRC, about 12 hours. A long day, but it was freaking awesome!
² RAF Hawker Typhoon ground attack aircraft.

* Flaming grenade of the Signal Corps, NOT. That's Ordnance not SC. Thanks Badger.


  1. There's that fine line between generally accurate, and perfectly accurate, and staying on the "I'm not going to make myself crazy" side of the line works great.

    People die in combat. I see the amount of work it takes to build a character that make it thorough the story and I add another item to my list of my I'm not an author. I also see that it take a lot of work to build a character that I despise. I mean Private Ian Mackle.

    On the subject of one big document. I've been copying and pasting each post into a Word document so that I can read it without jumping around. Great minds indeed. :)

    "Bending the rules to make a good story." Well yes, most of the time my engineering space sea stories would say, "It was really hot and loud, and I stood there and watched gauges and thermometers and it rarely got interesting."

    Thank you for what you are writing.

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it!

      (Great minds indeed.)

  2. Following a couple squads through D plus... And you could write a thousand such stories, concurrent, that took place there. It is overwhelming to think of all the Brandts and Makles that existed in the ETO (Marvin), and the CIB (thinking about you uncle Bernerd), the Pacific (another uncle, and Mr. Graves), Alaska (Jim English).... All that history out there.... And I knew about a squad, and very little of their actual story....

    I'm really enjoying the series...

    1. Thanks STxAR. You're right, there are thousands of these stories, I wish I knew them all.

  3. The Flaming grenade of the Signal Corps has been around almost as long as the Crossed Flags of Ordnance!

    1. My Dad was Signal Corps, which means yes, I should know better. (Flaming grenades on the brain for some reason, I fixed that.)

      Got called away in mid-comment, d'oh!

    2. All too often as I slide deeper into curmudgeon-hood.

  4. No need to apologize for anything! Great story(s)!

    1. I fess up to my errors. Especially if someone else notices!


  5. (Don McCollor)...Your writing is going great Sarge! I am enjoying it...

  6. (Don McCollor) real cliffhanger was in the book (aptly named) 'The Clay Pigeons of St Lo' by Glover S. Johns, Jr, first copyright 1958. (An account dedicated to the 1st Btn, 115 Inf, 29th Div). Under a strong German counter attack, with no radio com, and a nexus of com wire a tangled mess from a shell hit. The signalmen patched one single wire through and got someone. "Angel. What are you Angel?" Artillery. A battery of 155's. "You're hitting them Angel, but they're still coming, and you are we got"...

  7. A good go-to reference is... the official green books. Seems the Army got the idea that all that history was going to be important and started collecting all the papers and oral interviews in the late 40's and early 50's.

    Conveniently found... Here.

    A bit dry, but riveting. Not just battles, but the planning stages, the logistics, the actual 'what happened' and after-action analysis.

    If'n that weblink isn't on your list of places to go, well, it should be now. I've only perused the Pacific side of the action, but here you go.

    Knowing you, OldAFS, you already know about it. But if you didn't, then you do now.

    As to action, very few units were constantly in contact, as that would tend to whittle away said units just from attrition. Even the most active units had quiet moments or were pulled from the front lines for refitting and then plugging back into the action.

    And, yes, the Bocage totally sucked. Perfect 'anybody can be a sniper' terrain as the distances were short, easy marks for a decent shot at less than 300 yards, just perfect for iron sights and no fancy smansy glass needed.

    The Commonwealth troops did get sloshed hard around Caen. And all the men lost and then they had to clean up after the bombing before it could be used. What a waste.

    1. It's a good source, but as it's a scholarly work, it takes a while to wade through. Often for little benefit. I like having the actual after action reports, which the 15th Scottish actually has online.

  8. I think the story is great!

  9. I'm gonna differ with you a little.
    The research isn't hard.
    It's the conversion from raw data, no matter how it's recorded, to a narrative to which anyone can relate.
    Thanks for doing the grunt work and keeping everyone interested.

    1. You ain't whistling Dixie!

      I decided to do a bit of world creation for a RPG campaign I'd never actually run and the research has taken on a life of its own!

      Because it's an alternate history and a weird parallel world, the points of departure must be plausible. This is not easy when the real history is chock full of the implausible.

  10. Keep doing what you are doing. as long as you enjoy it.
    This is historical fiction, and how much of each can ebb and flow with each episode. Your fiction is a lot better than some of the historical works by professionals in the details, so don't worry about every tiny loose end or bit of trivia. We like what we are being served. (And the price is right!)
    Frankly, I am enjoying the installments, probably more than I would a complete book.
    John Blackshoe.

  11. i had both his books of willy and joe but they went into the fire with all the rest.

    1. When the decision is made to travel light, sacrifices must be made. But, ouch.

      I'm sure there were many books you would have liked to have kept, but again, can't keep everything.

  12. Research is hard. And depending on the subject and the period, very hard. I congratulate you for sticking to it and high accuracy.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.