The Minute Book
Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Somme; Sydney Doctors Story
Topic: The Field of Battle

The Somme

Incidents of the Battle
Sydney Doctors Story

The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Australia, 6 September 1916

In a letter to Mrs. Everard Digby, of Neutral Bay, a captain who is serving as a medical man in France gives a graphic description of the Somme battle. The letter is dated July 7. The captain writes:—

"By now you have read of the British offensive on the Somme. Well, your elder son has been in it from the beginning, and is still all right, in spite of narrow shaves, and hopes to come along through it all right. This is what I've been waiting for for 12 months, and now I can rest contented; though I was through Ypres and the taking of the Bluff, which were exciting enough. I wanted something like this to put the crowning glory on things, and now I have got it. Three cheers.

"To tell you in detail all that led up to things would keep me writing till morning. How we got the order to move at last; the joy of everyone when we knew that at last we were 'for it' for the 'great push.' How we lightened our kit for the advance; the cleaning of revolvers, and, on my part the replenishing of dressings, drugs, splints, etc.; the seven days' march through cold and rain and mud, alternating with sunshine; marching all the time by night; the meeting of fresh troops, everyone cheery, thirsting to be up and at 'em; the bivouacing out in woods, fields, hedges—anywhere.

"I can begin telling you in some detail the course of events from the time my brigade came into action a week before the morning of the attack, July 1. In conjunction with the Tock Emmas, which were wire-cutting, our batteries were shelling Huns, preventing them from repairing their wire at night. We handed out condensed hades to Fritz, with a mixed diet of H.E. and shrapnel, day and night for a week, and I had remarkable luck, having only one man killed. The assault was timed for 7.30 a.m., and so at 7 a.m. you saw me, girt with glasses, smoke-helmet, and 'tin-hat,' lying behind a parapet on the top of a rise in rear of the firing line. The whole front was a mass of drifting blue smoke, stabbed with the red flashed of the bursting shells and the huge 'splash' of earth made by the H.E. of the heavy howitzers. The morning mist hung over everything, making observation difficult. However, with my watch in my hand, and my glasses glued to my eyes, I watched the front line. At 7.30 I saw the boys go 'over the top,' the sunshine flashing on their bayonets. The part of the line I was watching go across 'No-man's land' had very few casualties before they were into the Boche front line. Here things were hard to see, but the Boches rushed over the parados for their second line, followed by our boys, bayonetting and bombing. Parties of Huns here and there flung up their hands, and were taken prisoners. The fight then disappeared into the smoke and I lost sight of it. Farther to the north, where the smoke and shells were thinner, I could see five successive waves chase the Boche out of his four front lines of trenches, and then our lads, having carried this line, dug themselves in like rabbits. It was here I saw a very pretty bit of bayonet work in which the Boche came off second best.

"Having seen everything to be seen here I got back to my aid post among the batteries, and all the morning the wreck and wastage of war, the walking wounded cases, trailed past my aid-post to the collecting station at the end of the valley. I stopped several of them and asked how things were going, and they were all happy and pleased as Punch. I relate several little incidents that I saw and had related to me by the wounded. One man, hit in both legs and the head, came limping along. 'It's great, sir,' he said to me, 'to see half a dozen of these big ——-s chucking up their hands to our little fellows.' He was sorry to be out of it so soon, and he passed on with one of my cigarettes.

"Another man with a bullet wound through his hand grinned all over his face when I asked him how he got hit. 'Well, you see, it was this way. I saw an officer come out of a dugout with a revolver. I had a Mills, and I got it off first. You should have seen that officer. Mills! He was full of Mills. As I thought he would be useful for information, I carried him into the dressing station, and on the way I got hit … A Mills is a hand grenade, named after its inventor, or, as Ordnance calls it, 'Grenades, hand, Mills, one.' Incidentally, I might mention I used up all my available stock of cigarettes on our wounded. Poor devils, you can't do enough for our infantry!

"Then the prisoners started to arrive in batches of 10, 20, 50, 100, and in one case 250, the last bunch guarded by three Jocks. I had a good opportunity of studying them. They belonged to a reserve regiment, and were all men of about 40 or more. One Boche, a regular giant of over seven feet, and hands like a leg-of-mutton, had his elbow shattered by a trench mortar, and was nearly collapsing as he was marched along, so the escort asked me to fix him up. So I tied him up and gave him a nip of brandy and a cigarette, whereupon he assailed me with a volley of Hun language and tried to shake hands, so I suppose he was trying to thank me. As I don't know any Hun, I simply asked 'Goot?' He 'yah-yahed' away like blazes. You can't help pitying them when you see them in that condition.

"In one batch of prisoners was one of the German medical service with a Red Cross brassard on his arm. As he passed me he pointed to my brassard and grinned like a Cheshire cat and said 'Kamerad.' I never felt so insulted in my life, especially as the tommies laughed. Among the first lot of prisoners were a fair number of wounded, but the later lots were all pretty sound.

"The prisoners were all marched into a barbed wire cage before being sent on to the bigger concentration camps, and here they were searched.. One Hun had an Iron Cross in his pocket-book, and this was a subject of great interest. Most of these prisoners had had nothing to eat for three days, as our bombardment prevented them getting food up, and they picked up bits of biscuit and bread and sucked empty beef tins as they went along. One, standing close to me, asked if I could speak French, and, on my saying I could, launched forth in a long yarn. He told me he was an Alsatian, and all about the battle from his point of view. So I yarned to him for about an hour, and gave him my last cigarette. I asked him what he thought of our troops, and he said they were all right, but the Scotch regiments were known among the Germans as the 'Mad Women from hell.' One of the escort on duty at the cage had an automatic pistol, and when asked where he'd got it, replied, 'From a German officer." 'And where's the officer?' asked the officer in charge' 'Oh, I bayoneted him,' was the reply, and, judging from the blood on his bayonet, I have no doubt he did.

"Later on I went over the captured ground up to within a few hundred yards of our new firing line. Passing over 'No Man's land,' where several of our lads were still lying awaiting burial, I passed into the Hun front lines. All his wire had been cut to small pieces by the combined fire of 18-pounders and trench mortars, and the heavy howitzers had got on to the trenches themselves. I never saw such a wreck. The trenches were only a succession of crump holes. The German dead lay piled up in heaps, two, three, and four deep, having met their death from bullet, bomb, bayonet, and shell fire. I won't dwell in detail on the ghastly sights I saw at every step, but they were a speaking expression of the horrors of war.

"The dug-outs are marvellous pieces of work—deep down under the parapet—and no shell made can reach anyone down there. I went into several in fear and trembling, because in many cases Huns were found in them two days after the attack still alive and full of fight. The ones I entered were only occupied by dead, as our fellows, as soon as they got the Huns in their dug-outs, bombed them and slaughtered them like rabbits. All along the trenches the same thing had happened—crunped trenches, dead Huns, and dug-outs full of dead. As for souvenirs, for those who wanted them, they were there in any quantity—helmets, rifles, bayonets, cartridges, badges, buttons, etc. I contented myself with a button, a clip of cartridges, and a plying card I found in a dug-out, and which I enclose.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2017 12:12 AM EDT
Friday, 2 June 2017

Why old soldiers live
Topic: The Field of Battle

Why old soldiers live

They keep doing something all the time in combat—they don't just do nothing.

Army Talks, Vol. II, No. 27, 5 July 1944, United States Army

Sgt. Infantry:

"Want to know why old soldiers live—and the replacements need to be replaced and replaced? I'll tell you. Old soldiers know what enemy weapons can do. They have plenty of respect for them. They don't expose themselves needlessly. They aren't afraid to be afraid —they don't act brave—they duck and run for cover when their eyes and ears give the warning. They know when to be alert—and when to relax. They travel light and fight light. They hit the dirt and don't run wild or freeze so they're helpless. They let the enemy get close so they can hit him. They aren't trigger happy. They don't bunch up. They look where they're going—up, down and around, not just at their feet like rookies. They keep doing something all the time in combat—they don't just do nothing."

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 5 May 2017 5:04 PM EDT
Tuesday, 30 May 2017

German and Russian Combat Tricks (1941-42)
Topic: The Field of Battle

German and Russian Combat Tricks (1941-42)

Small Unit Actions During the German Campaign in Russia, Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-269; Washington, 1953

A German Decoy Diverts Russian Aircraft (Winter 1941-42)

During the desperate struggle in the Rzhev area in the winter of 1941-42, the Russians employed several outdated biplanes to conduct night raids against German installations, to drop propaganda leaflets, and to supply encircled Russian units. Since the nightly harassing raids robbed the German defenders of their much-needed rest, the commander of a German infantry regiment decided to trick the enemy into dropping his bombs where they could cause no damage. He ordered his engineers to hang several lanterns on 6-foot poles set up in an isolated area. A wire connected the lanterns, and a man about 800 yards away manipulated the wire in such a way that the lanterns swayed back and forth. From the air this motion produced the effect of a number of men walking on the ground and carrying lanterns in their hands. On the following night the Russian air craft appeared as usual. Upon spotting what appeared to be a rewarding target, they immediately released their bombs which exploded without causing any damage except for the destruction of a number of lanterns. After this ruse had been successfully employed for a number of nights, higher headquarters refused to supply any more lanterns because of excessive expenditure. However, when a bomb landed squarely on the billets of the division commander two nights later, the order was rescinded, and lanterns were again available in unlimited quantities.

The Dummy Drop Zone (January 1943)

During the fighting near Demyansk in January 1943 a German infantry regiment succeeded in encircling elements of several Russian divisions in its rear area. Within a short time the Russians began to airdrop supplies to their encircled forces. A German radio intelligence detachment intercepted a Russian message transmitted to the units in the pocket, ordering them to lay out a drop zone with four fires. During the following night the fires should form the letter T; letters were to be changed every night.

The German regimental commander decided to take advantage of this information and prevent the Russian units in the pocket from receiving badly needed supplies. To this end he established a dummy drop zone outside the pocket. Russian prisoners of war who served the division as laborers were ordered to fill four shell craters forming the letter T with dry wood, which was then soaked in gaso line. The laborers had scarcely completed the task when the noise of approaching aircraft became audible. The piles of wood in the pits were quickly set afire. Upon noticing the fires on the ground, Russian aircraft dumped their cargo of ammunition and rations over the German drop zone. This deception was successfully repeated on three successive nights, and the encircled forces were thus deprived of supplies. They were forced to surrender a few days later.

On other occasions the Germans were equally successful in de ceiving Russian aircraft, provided that they observed the correct pro cedure. First, the number of fires and the letters they formed in the drop zone had to correspond to the prearranged signal. If the fires on the ground were not correctly laid out, the Russian pilots became suspicious and were likely to drop a few bombs instead of the desired supplies. Second, the fires had to be built in shell craters or pits according to Russian methods and not on flat ground.

The slow-flying Russian cargo planes were vulnerable to small-arms fire while making their approach run to the lighted drop zone. No tracer ammunition was to be used for this purpose. In their eagerness to recover the airdropped supplies, the German soldiers often did not wait until all Russian aircraft had departed. In one instance, a noncommissioned officer was severely injured when he was hit by frozen sides of bacon.

Russian Traps (February 1943)

Near Demyansk in February 1943 the German forces in the MLR were greatly understrength, and Russian reconnaissance patrols were often able to infiltrate. They would cut a wire line connecting outposts with the rear and prepare an ambush for the German troubleshooters, who usually arrived within a short time. As a rule, the wire repair team consisted of two men, whose attention was concentrated on the task at hand. While the two were engaged in repairing the damaged wire, the Russians would catch them off guard, overpower them silently, and take them away. At that time the German manpower shortage was so pronounced that usually no infantry detachments were available to protect the troubleshooters.

Another incident occurred on a particularly dark night, when one of two German infantrymen manning a machine gun momentarily left his post to investigate a suspicious noise. Five Russians belonging to a reconnaissance patrol jumped at the soldier who had remained at the machine gun, threw ground pepper into his face, pulled a bag over his head, and disappeared with him into the night. When he heard the noise, the other man ran back to the machine gun and fired several bursts in the direction in which the Russian patrol had vanished. On the following morning the bodies of a Russian officer and two Russian enlisted men were found in the immediate vicinity of the outpost, as was the body of the abducted German machine gunner. Two severely wounded Russians were discovered a few yards away. Among the Russian officer's papers the Germans found an elaborate plan of attack based on preliminary reconnaissance information, indicating that during the four preceding nights the officer had observed the German outpost area from behind a disabled tank at only 30 yards distance from the German machine gun crew.

German Sound Deception (November 1944)

During the fight ing along the Narev River in November 1944 the commander of a German infantry regiment requested from higher headquarters the dispatch of a sound truck equipped with recordings simulating the approach, assembly, and the attack of an armored division. Each record ran for 12 minutes. As soon as the requested equipment arrived, a shelter was constructed on a reverse slope so that the sound truck would be protected from enemy view and fire. Observers, equipped with telescopes, were to scrutinize the Russian positions to determine the emplacements of their heavy weapons and artillery. A fire plan was prepared according to which the heavy weapons of the three German battalions in that sector were to alternately fire at specified targets in order to confuse the Russians. Division and corps intercept units were alerted. The time for the deceptive attack was set for the late afternoon of a hazy November day, when visibility was at a minimum.

Soon after the start of the German fire, which was perfectly coordinated with the sounds of approaching armor, the Russian heavy weapons began to reply. A little later the artillery went into action. As the noise of the approaching German tanks grew louder, the Russian unit commanders became more and more alarmed and sent out frantic calls for help. This radio traffic was observed by the German intercept detachments, which were thus able to plot the location of the enemy command posts.

Thirty-seven minutes later a Russian artillery shell scored a direct hit on the cable which linked the loudspeaker to the sound truck, thus putting a sudden end to the performance. However, by this time the deception had achieved its purpose. The Russian forward positions had been identified, 11 mortar and 7 antitank gun emplacements had been determined, and a great number of artillery pieces had been located by flash and sound ranging. On the following day the identified Russian weapons were taken under fire and destroyed.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Sunday, 14 May 2017

Lessons Learned by the Wehrmacht, Poland (1939)
Topic: The Field of Battle

Lessons Learned by the Wehrmacht, Poland (1939)

The German Campaign in Poland (1939), by Robert M. Kennedy, Major, Infantry US Army, April, 1956

Bock expressed the opinion that the old adage "The infantry must wait for the artillery" should be changed to "The artillery may not delay the infantry."

Conclusions; General

The German campaign in Poland in 1939 has been regarded by many as little more than a maneuver for the youthful Wehrmacht. However, the casualty figures and losses in materiel for the period of combat show that the campaign was more than an exercise with live ammunition. Rundstedt supported this view on operations in Poland in one of his rare commentaries following World War II. The bulk of the German armed forces had to be committed to overcome the Poles, and the expenditure in ammunition, gasoline, and materiel was such as to preclude concurrent German operations on a similar scale in the west or elsewhere.

The unrealistic impression of the campaign was heightened by the German propaganda effort that proceeded apace with operations in the field. The German armies were depicted as highly motorized, with tank support out of proportion to the actual number of armored vehicles they had available, and with fleets of aircraft supporting ground units on short notice with maximum efficiency. Little mention was made of the horse drawn supply columns, of the infantry divisions which often marched on foot at the rate of 30 miles per day, or of the repeated Luftwaffe bombings of advance German units.

The exaggeration of the picture of the new German war machine should not be construed to mean that the Wehrmacht was not a most effective fighting organization and had not accomplished much in putting the theory of mobile warfare to the test of battle. "Panzer" division and "Luftwaffe" soon became familiar terms in English and other foreign languages. It was obvious even to those not versed in military affairs that the era of trench warfare on the World War I pattern had ended. The element of movement had been restored to war, even though fewer than one in six of the German divisions mobilized during the period of the Polish Campaign were Panzer or motorized divisions. Except for the XVI and XIX Corps, the German Panzer force had also been committed piecemeal, and full ad vantage was not taken of the shock power of the Panzer division in the campaign in Poland.

The opportunity for a successful Allied attack against the Westwall had passed by the time the Polish Campaign ended. Hitler and his generals were well aware of the risk they had taken in throwing almost all their resources into the gamble for a quick victory in the east, as exemplified in their redeployment of divisions and higher commands from the Polish theater to the Westwall before operations in Poland had been completed.

The situation faced by the British and French in October 1939 was that of a fait accompli. Germany had defeated Poland completely and redeployed to the Westwall forces sufficient to withstand a belated Allied offensive. Adolf Hitler's success in Poland also enhanced the Fuehrer's opinion of his own abilities as a strategist and further encouraged him to deprecate the advice of his military staff and senior commanders. Germany's increasing strength and the continued in activity of the Western Allies soon inclined Hitler to order planning to commence for a fast-moving campaign to subjugate France and destroy the British Expeditionary Force. Only the onset of winter and the strongest objections from his military advisers prompted Hitler to delay his campaign until the following spring.

Lessons Learned by the Wehrmacht

The German forces took advantage of the opportunity to observe the effectiveness and utility of their new weapons and other materiel, organization, and tactics in combat operations in Poland and a number of improvements were found necessary. Some changes could be made before the campaign in France the following spring, while others would have to wait.


Among the infantry weapons, the Model 1934 machine, gun was found to be subject to frequent stoppages in rugged field use, particularly in muddy or dusty areas. Research on a new machine gun was accelerated, and the Model 1942 that evolved would continue to operate despite exposure to many of the conditions that hampered the use of the Model 1934 weapon.

The higher rate of fire of the 1942 machine gun was to be of considerable significance in later operations. The effort expended by Germany in the development of artillery of all types was found to be justified. According to Colonel Blumentritt, operations officer for Rundstedt, the Poles themselves testified to the effectiveness of the German artillery fire in the attack on War saw. The defenders had received warning of air attacks with the appearance of German aircraft and the bombing had been of limited duration. The sustained artillery fire, however, wore down the resistance of the garrison of the Polish capital.

The 88mm antiaircraft gun was found to be especially effective in engaging bunkers and prepared fortifications. The VIII Corps made reference to this of the new gun in attacking the Polish fortifications at Nikolai. According to the VIII Corps account, the gun could penetrate the walls of bunkers and buildings reinforced as strongpoints.

The German Mark I tanks were found to be unsatisfactory in operations, and the Mark II tanks were useful only for reconnaissance. This served to confirm the belief that these tanks were too light for operations and should be replaced by heavier types. Panzer units were henceforth equipped with a larger proportion of Mark III and Mark IV tanks. The heavier of the two, the Mark IV tank, was singled out by Guderian as a highly effective weapon to be produced in quantity. The Mark II tank was utilized for a time as a reconnaissance vehicle, and eventually the Mark I and II tank chassis were utilized as gun platforms for the self-propelled gun units organized for assault operations. In general, the supply of spare parts and system of maintenance for tanks was found to be inadequate for the needs of Panzer units in combat.

The rapid and overwhelming successes and light personnel losses of the new German tank force in the Polish Campaign, as illustrated by the movements of the XIX Corps across the Polish Corridor and from East Prussia to Brzesc, convinced Hitler of the effectiveness of this new weapon. In 10 days of operations the XIX Corps covered 200 miles in its drive on Brzesc. Polish reserve units still assembling in the rear areas were completely surprised and destroyed before they could organize a defense. In an action at Zabinka, east of Brzesc, elements of the XIX Corps interrupted the unloading of tanks at a rail siding and destroyed the Polish armored unit before is could deploy and give battle. The corps' losses totalled 2,236, including 650 dead, 1,345 wounded, and 241 missing, less than 4 percent of Guderian's entire force. Henceforth, as in the coming French Campaign, Panzer units were to play an increasingly important part in German planning.


Guderian recommended that battalion and regimental headquarters of Panzer units be located farther forward to direct the battle. Headquarters should be more mobile, restricted to a few armored vehicles, and well equipped with radio communication. The XIX Corps commander also recommended better communication with the supply columns and trains of the armored and motorized units.

The light divisions were found to have little staying power in sustained operations in Poland. These divisions already had at least one tank battalion each. The addition of a sufficient number of tanks to form a tank regiment for each division made it possible to complete the planned conversion of all four light divisions to Panzer divisions, bearing the numbers 6 through 9.

The motorized infantry divisions were found to be unwieldy in operations in Poland. To permit better control, one motorized infantry regiment was detached from each of the motorized divisions.


Some infantry commanders complained of the awkward and heavy packs carried by the troops, recommending changes to permit the individual soldier greater freedom of action and more comfort. One commander recommended the carrying of machine gun ammunition by the ammunition carriers of gun crews in containers similar to those used by mortar crews, i.e., in a special pack carried by the individual soldier rather than in boxes carried by hand. This would permit the ammunition bearer to operate a rifle, giving the gun crew more protection and fire power. In addition a special grenade sack was recommended for the individual soldier. It was also requested that one rifleman in the infantry squad be provided with a telescopic sight to permit accurate fire on small or more distant targets.

The 57th Infantry Division prepared a report on its experiences illustrating a number of the small oversights that added to the problems of the commanders of lower units. The division was a Wave II organization composed largely of reservists who had recently completed their periods of active service. During their two years of active duty, the men had been trained on the Model 1934 machine gun. When they were mobilized for the campaign in Poland, many did not know how to operate the older World War I type weapon with which some Wave II units were still equipped. Another oversight was the supply of horseshoes, made to a size common to military horses but far too small for the splayed hooves of many farm horses requisitioned at the time of mobilization.

Some fault was found with the equipment carried by assault engineers. Their heavy gear made it difficult for the engineers to carry out their assault role with the infantry. It was recommended that their equipment be so distributed that the engineers would be able to operate effectively as part of the infantry-engineer team in assault operations.

Training and Tactics

The infantry tactics of the Germans were criticized by Bock, who felt that too much was sacrificed to caution. This may seem somewhat contradictory, in view of the brief period of time in which the Ger mans destroyed a Polish force almost as strong as their own numerically and captured a number of heavily fortified areas that the Poles defended stubbornly. Bock actually had reference to the frequent delays incurred when artillery had to be brought forward to the sup port of infantry units. The general felt that some artillery batteries should always be attached directly to infantry units, to give close support in an attack or movement forward. The remainder of the artillery should be sufficiently mobile to move forward to support at tacking infantry with little delay. Bock expressed the opinion that the old adage "The infantry must wait for the artillery" should be changed to "The artillery may not delay the infantry."

Bock further felt that the German infantry training directives were obsolete and verbose. The commander of the northern army group was of the opinion that these regulations should be shortened and should stress the mission and aggressive action to accomplish it. Brief and pertinent regulations would be easier to remember and would impress on the officer, noncommissioned officer, and soldier the all-important task he was to perform in combat, with minimum distraction.

Another characteristic of warfare in eastern Europe as learned by the Germans was the considerable guerrilla activity in rear areas. As a consequence, it was recommended by a number of commanders that supply trains, workshops, and other rear installations be better equipped with weapons, particularly automatic weapons, and support personnel trained in their use.

The successful night attacks of the Poles made a considerable impression on the Germans. Although already aware of the advantage of moving by night, a device they used repeatedly, the Germans did not fully appreciate the potentialities of attacking under cover of darkness until shown by the Poles. With adequate security, these operations could cause considerable confusion when launched at the boundaries between units, as demonstrated by the Polish night attack of 12 September at the junction of the 207th Infantry Division and Brigade Eberhard lines before Gdynia.

Air Support

The Luftwaffe in Poland succeeded in proving its offensive power as an attack weapon, despite the protests of some senior army commanders whose troops had been bombed in close support operations. The Luftwaffe demonstrated its capabilities in isolating the Polish front by bombing bridges and rail lines, and preventing the movement of Polish supplies and troops by bombing and strafing truck columns on the roads. The Luftwaffe also rendered material assistance to advancing German armored columns and dive bombed Polish fortifications prior to attack by the ground forces. From this point the Luftwaffe was to have an important role as part of the German attack team.

The complete cover given ground forces by the Luftwaffe in Poland worked a disservice to the Army as far as camouflage was concerned. Despite instructions, there was little actual need for advancing units to utilize available cover and concealment at halts; for artillery to put up camouflage nets to hide guns, ammunition, and prime movers; or for command posts to limit vehicular traffic in their immediate vicinity. The Polish Air Force was unable to take advantage of this laxity on the part of many units, and the pace of the campaign made it impossible for higher commanders to take corrective action while operations were still in progress. As a consequence, a poor start in camouflage discipline was made by many units, and the lack of offensive action by the Polish Air Force made it impossible to point out examples of what might occur were the Wehrmacht to be committed against an enemy possessing an air force comparable to the Luftwaffe.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Saturday, 4 March 2017

Efficiency of Enemy Tactics (Korea)
Topic: The Field of Battle

Summary of the Efficiency of Enemy Tactics (Korea)

Enemy Tactics, HQ Eighth US Army Korea (EUSAK), 1951 (Unclassified 1984)

Enemy tactics were sound and well-executed. Contrary to the popular conception of the enemy as "a screaming horde," the [North Korean] and [Chinese Communist] Forces were well-coordinated fighting machines. Enemy attacks showed considerable prior planning and good judgment for the most part.

Reconnaissance of UN positions was thorough and resulted in many penetrations. The extensive use of guerrilla activity, especially during the days of the PUSAN perimeter and the INCHON landing, aided the enemy's fighting machine. Tactics employed were similar to Western tactics; especially the old Patton adage of "holding them by the nose and kicking them in the pants." Envelopments were widely used. It is believed that air superiority, firepower, and mobility of the UN Forces provided the difference between the two forces.

Defensively, the enemy used the same tactics, on the whole, as UN Forces; namely, that of trading terrain in an effort to gain time and inflict maximum losses on the opposition. After May 1951, the enemy the enemy adhered to the principle of the main line of resistance, and proved a stubborn, tenacious foe to dislodge. Massed artillery fire and hand-to-hand assaults were necessary to clear the enemy defensive positions.

Certain definite disadvantages to the enemy were noted in the tactics he employed. Definite offensive indications were conspicuous before every attack. This enabled UN Forces to prepare themselves. Since the enemy attacks followed a definite pattern in all cases, UN Forces were able to take appropriate defensive measures.

Another weakness noted in enemy tactics was his inability to sustain an offensive, especially at lower unit levels. This was caused by the damage inflicted on his supply system by UN air and artillery. Consequently, each enemy soldier carried approximately a week's supply of food. When this was exhausted, the enemy attack lost momentum, and finally stalled. Undoubtedly winter weather hindered the resupply of enemy rear installations. This was due to the scarcity of natural camouflage and to the good flying weather available to UN aircraft.

The advantage of the enemy's superior manpower became a disadvantage in the face of UN fire superiority. Enemy troops became demoralized and confused; units were difficult to control because of inadequate communications; and logistical support was difficult. The capture of many enemy troops suffering wounds indicated that Communist medical support was limited.

All in all, the Communist Force employed in Korea was a capable opponent which employed sound basic principles of war.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year, a German Soldier's View
Topic: The Field of Battle

New Year, a German Soldier's View

Werner Liebert, German Army, quoted in Jon E. Lewis, The Mammoth Book of War Diaries and Letters; Life on the battlefield in the words of the ordinary soldier, 1775-1991, 1998

January 3rd, 1915

I have lit a pipe and settled myself at the table in our cow-house in order to write home, where they are certainly looking for news again. The pipe tastes good and the old soldier is also otherwise all right.

New Year's Eve was very queer here. An English officer came across with a white flag and asked for a truce from 11 o'clock till 3 to bury the dead (just before Christmas there were some fearful enemy attacks here in which the English lost many in killed and prisoners). The truce was granted. It is good not to see the corpses lying out in front of us any more. The truce was moreover extended. The English came out of their trenches into no-man's-land and exchanged cigarettes, tinned-meat and photographs with our men, and said they didn't want to shoot any more. So there is an extraordinary hush, which seems quite uncanny. Our men and theirs are standing up on the parapet above the trenches …

That couldn't go on indefinitely, so we sent across to say that they must get back into their trenches as we were going to start firing. The officers answered that they were sorry, but their men wouldn't obey orders. They didn't want to go on. The soldiers said they had had enough of lying in wet trenches, and that France was done for.

They really are much dirtier than we are, have more water in their trenches and more sick. Of course they are only mercenaries, and so they are simply going on strike. Naturally we didn't shoot either, for our communication trench leading from the village to the firing-line is always full of water, so we are very glad to be able to walk on the top without any risk. Suppose the whole English army strikes, and forces the gentlemen in London to chuck the whole business! Our lieutenants went over and wrote their names in an album belonging to the English officers.

Then one day an English officer came across and said that the Higher Command had given orders to fire on our trench and that our men must take cover, and the (French) artillery began to fire, certainly with great violence but without inflicting any casualties.

On New Year's Eve we called across to tell each other the time and agreed to fire a salvo at 12. It was a cold night. We sang songs, and they clapped (we were only 60-70 yards apart); we played the mouth-organ and they sang and we clapped. Then I asked if they hadn't got any musical instruments, and they produced some bagpipes (they are the Scots Guards, with the short petticoats and bare legs) and they played some of their beautiful elegies on them, and sang, too. Then at 12 we all fired salvos into the air! Then there were a few shots from our guns (I don't know what they were firing at) and the usually so dangerous Verey lights crackled like fireworks, and we waved torches and cheered. We had brewed some grog and drank the toast of the Kaiser and the New Year. It was a real good "Silvester", just like peace-time!

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas, 1914
Topic: The Field of Battle

Christmas, 1914

Frank and Maurice Wray, The London Rifle Brigade, "Christmas, 1914," Army Quarterly and Defence Journal, Vol. XCVII, October 1968 and January 1969

And so on Christmas Eve we settled down to our normal watch-keeping without relaxation and without any idea of what the immediate future was to bring. It soon became clear, however, by the sounds of activity coming from the opposite trenches that the Germans were celebrating Christmas Eve in their customary manner. They had brought up a band into their front line trenches, and, as we listened to hymns and tunes common to both nations, quite understandably a wave of nostalgia passed over us.

When it became quite dark the light from an electric pocket-lamp appeared on the German parapet. Normally this would have drawn a hail of bullets, but soon these lights were outlining the trenches as far as the eye could see and no sound of hostile activity could be heard. When the lights were dowsed we waited in the stillness of a beautiful night (nevertheless with the usual sentries posted and fully alert) for the dawn of the most remarkable Christmas Day that any of us was ever likely to see. As dawn was breaking a voice from the German trenches was heard, 'We good, we no shoot," and so was born an unofficial armistice.

After some initial caution the troops from both sides rose from their holes in the ground to stretch their legs and then to fraternize in "No Man's Land" between the trenches—a happy state of affairs which continued for about ten days. It became clear that the same extraordinary situation extended towards Armentieres on our right and Hill 60 on our left, as a battalion of the 10th Division on our left arranged a football match against a German team—one of their number having found in the opposing unit a fellow member of his local Liverpool football club who was also his hairdresser! Many souvenirs were exchanged, ranging from buttons and badges, a piece of cloth cut from a Saxon's overcoat (still in our possession), some cigars which had been received from the Kaiser (not very popular apparently, either cigars or donor!).

The prize souvenir, however, was a German Regular's dress helmet, the celebrated "Pickelhaube." Our currency in this piece of bargaining was bully beef and Tickler's plum and apple, so called, jam. They asked for marmalade, but we had not seen any ourselves since we left England. This helmet achieved fame as, on the following day, a voice called out, "Want to speak to officer," and being met in "No Man's Land" continued, "Yesterday I give my hat for the bullybif. I have grand inspection tomorrow. You lend me and I bring it back after." The loan was made and the pact kept, sealed with some extra bully! The spike from this helmet we still have.

This Elysian situation was not to last, and, incidentally, it was said to have caused some misgivings in the High Command, possibly owing to the disproportionate number of Germans emerging from the ground on Christmas morning. The end came when the word came over, "Prussians coming in here tomorrow," and so it was and we returned to the comparative safety of our holes in the ground.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Monday, 16 November 2015

Anti-Gas Precautions
Topic: The Field of Battle

Anti-Gas Precautions

How I Won the War; the memoirs of a heavily armed civilian by Lieut Ernest Goodbody (as told to), Patrick Ryan, 1963

This was too grave a matter to be dealt with on the line of march. We would have to have a kit inspection on the objective.

'Sergeant Transom,' I said. 'We're not observing proper anti-gas precautions. The leading man has no litmus paper on his bayonet.'

He looked down at the thick, white dust puffing over our boots.

'Nor he hasn't, sir,' he said in surprise. 'And this is a dead likely place to meet mustard gas, and all. I'll see to it right away.'

He moved forward and spiked a sheet of paper on Private Drogue's bayonet.

'What we do now,' asked the gas sentry. 'Flag day?'

The litmus paper did not look of standard size to me and so I went up to inspect. It was a square of toilet paper. Quite useless, I assure you, for detecting mustard gas deposits. I was about to remonstrate with the sergeant when I noticed that no one in the platoon but myself still had a gas mask. They'd all thrown them away. This was too grave a matter to be dealt with on the line of march. We would have to have a kit inspection on the objective.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Thursday, 3 September 2015

VC Supply Caches
Topic: The Field of Battle

Summary of Salient Points Learned With Respect to VC Supply Caches

Viet Cong Base Camps and Supply Caches; Counter Insurgency Lessons learned No. 68., July 1968

a.     The use of information provided by PWs and Hoi Chanhs can materially assist units in locating caches. Information provided by such people must always be considered and, whenever possible, exploited to the utmost.

b.     The VC use natural and man made anthills as caches for weapons and munitions.

c.     Caches are more easily identified if units recognize the key protective measures used by the VC.

d.     Flocks of birds are a frequent indicator of the proximity of rice caches.

e.     Analysis of the disposition of booby traps in an area can lead to the discovery of valuable VC stores and material.

f.     When searching for caches, operations should be methodical, deliberate and thorough.

g.     Operational planning must include methods of extracting rice or destroying it in place.

h.     Rice caches can normally be effectively scattered by the use of cratering charges and effectively contaminated with CS.

i.     Rice caches are infrequently booby trapped.

j.     The VC frequently place grenade type booby traps inside bags of rice. Therefore, all rice bags should be sanitized by EOD and Engineer personnel prior to handling. (see Fig. 6)

k.     Engineer bulldozers cab be effectively utilized in the destruc­tion of rice caches by pushing them into rivers or constructing suitable LZs close to the caches to allow evacuation by air.

l.     Caches are usually well concealed, located in the proximity of transportation routes, and are not placed in any discernible patterns.

m.     Extraction of rice caches are ideal missions for RVNAF's organic transportation units and Province/District Headquarters in carrying out Civic Action Programs.

n.     Nipa palm trees have been used by the VC to store equipment. The foliage of these trees offers excellent concealment for caches.

o.     Medical supplies should be evacuated through intelligence chan­nels rather than being destroyed in place.

p.     The use of probes and mine detectors in locating buried caches has proven to be effective.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Thursday, 27 August 2015

Clothing, Necessaries, and Badges of Non-Effectives
Topic: The Field of Battle

1617—Disposal of Clothing and Necessaries and Badges of Non-Effectives:—(B)

Extracts from Volumes 5 and 6 of Canadian Army Routine Orders, R.Os. 1541 to 2755, 31 Dec 1942


The following articles may be used in conjunction with the burial of deceased soldiers who have died whilst serving:—

  • Battle Dress:—
    • Blouse.
    • Trousers, pair.
  • Underwear.
  • Shirt.
  • Socks.
  • Badges.

The above items will be struck off the individual M.F.C. 800 but will not be brought back to the Unit's ledger charge and again written off. A note should, however, be made on the M.F.C. 800 against these items to the effect that they were buried with the deceased soldier.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Sunday, 26 July 2015

Small Unit Operations, Vietnam, 1967
Topic: The Field of Battle

Small Unit Operations

Counterinsurgency Lessons Learned No. 61, 27 January 1967

The war in Vietnam is a small unit leader's war. Because of the large number of semi-independent platoon and company missions performed by units in Vietnam, the knowledge and skill of the small unit leader are more important than ever before. Some of the lessons learned by small unit commanders are discussed below.

(1)     A major problem is locating the enemy. One solution to this problem is to patrol from company bases. Consistent with communications capabilities, squads operate in areas for three days without resupply. For example, one company operating by squads in designated zones, separated but mutually supporting, can cover a large area with thoroughness and stealth. The mission of squads under these circumstances is to ambush at night, observe during daylight, and engage small enemy groups. When a squad locates a significant enemy force, the platoon/company consolidates on the squad to fix the enemy. The battalion (–), standing by as an immediate reaction force, is brought to bear on the enemy to destroy him. Once contact is made, the unit reacts rapidly with all available firepower and reinforcements without further regard to deception, stealth or surprise. Following the engagement with the enemy, the squads revert to semi-guerrilla tactics in a designated zone until a subsequent contact is made.

(2)     Another major problem of the commander in jungle terrain is control of his troops. The commander often is hindered by poor ground visibility and difficulty of communications. At times he can help his unit stay on course, spot targets and mark them, and in general have a much better feel for the operation if airborne by helicopter.

(3)     The commander needs a method of locating maneuver elements. When companies are moving by bounds, smoke placed at the flanks of the lead companies becomes a valuable reference on which to base maneuver of the trail (reserve) company.

(4)     To locate small VC units the best results are obtained from separate company and platoon size operations as compared to larger organizations which are detected more easily by the enemy. The separate unit usually is successful in closing with the enemy. However, supporting fires must be planned in detail and a reserve reaction force must be available on short notice. Such operations require the highest caliber of leadership.

(5)     Most enemy contacts are made at distances of 15 to 30 meters. Once contact is made with an enemy employing automatic weapons, the contacted force often is pinned down in its position and it is difficult to use heavy supporting fires on the enemy front lines.

(a)     One technique used successfully by a brigade under these circumstances was to precede the main body by 100 to 200 meters during an approach march with approximately five fire teams of five men each. In this manner, the minimum force will be committed when contact is made, thus ena, ling maximum freedom for maneuver of the main body.

(b)     Because the fire fight upon contact may be short and violent, some automatic weapons should be placed near the point.

(6)     Certain lessons learned concerning contact with the enemy stand out in importance.

(a)     Once contact has been made, pressure on the enemy must be maintained to keep him off balance. The VC are well versed in the use of delaying tactics. Excessive time must not be lost in develop­ing the situation else it may allow the enemy main force to prepare an ambush, occupy a defensive position or escape.

(b)     The VC may choose not to break contact immediately. In this case he employs the "close embrace" or "bear hug" tactic to prevent friendly use of supporting fires. Friendly units must keep the VC at arm's length in order to use supporting weapons. Once a unit is involved in a "close embrace" with the VC, any attempt to withdraw prompts the enemy to follow the withdrawing forces. Extensive use of hand grenades and intensive small arms fire will assist in defeating the "close embrace" tactics.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Sabre
Topic: The Field of Battle

For good or evil, the saber had one quality that set it apart from all other weapons. It had glamor.

The Sabre

Cold Steel: The Saber and the Union Cavalry, by Stephen Z. Starr, presented in Battles Lost & Won; essays from Civil War History, John T. Hubbell (Ed), 1975


For good or evil, the saber had one quality that set it apart from all other weapons. It had glamor. A cavalry officer of the Napoleonic Wars once remarked that the function of cavalry in warfare was to give tone to what overwise would be nothing but a vulgar brawl. And cavalry derived its distinctive tone from the saber and the saber charge. The long-range rifle, the breech-loading magazine carbine, and the rifled cannon had become instruments of mass slaughter, impersonal machines of destruction, and only the saber remained as a weapon of individual combat, man against man. Of course, given the self-consciously heroic atmosphere of the Civil War, such single combats sometimes occurred in ways not contemplated by the regulations, as when Captain Myrick of the 1st Maine and the colonel of another cavalry regiment settled a crossroads dispute as to which outfit had the right of way by fighting a saber duel on horseback. It may be taken for granted that neither the Confederate nor the Union War Department would have sanctioned the highly unorthodox but eminently sensible proceedings of a party of about one hundred Federal troopers and a contingent of roughly equal size of the 7th Tennessee, C.S.A., when they met by chance near Aberdeen, Mississippi. The commander of the Union detachment proposed, and the Confederates agreed, that rather than have a general engagement with its inevitable casualties each side should appoint a representative to fight a mounted saber duel. The Confederate champion was a "Polander; a German did battle for the honor of the Union. The two gladiators met between the lines, and (the story is told by a member of the Tennessee regiment) it was but an instant after they clashed the sword of the German went flying from his hands." The issue thus settled, the two groups parted "the best of old friends," with mutual expressions of esteem.


The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Topic: The Field of Battle


Voice from the Ranks; A Personal Narrative of the Crimean Campaign by a Sergeant of the Royal Fusiliers, edited by Kenneth Fenwick, 1954

Sergeant-Major Timothy Gowing

All our wounded found in [Sevastopol] were carried as quickly as possible to camp, and then the men set to work to get what they could for themselves out of the midst of the ruins—set to work plundering, if you choose to call it so.

But it was dangerous work and many of them lost their limbs—and some their lives—through their foolishness, by the fire from the enemy across the harbour. Some who were laden with all sorts of articles were stopped by the officers, who wanted to know what they were going to do with all that rubbish. The men would at once throw down their loads and salute the officers, who repeated the question:

'What on earth do you want with all that rubbish, my men?'

'An' sure, your 'onor, don't we mane to let furnished lodgings!'

They were carrying chairs, tables, bed-cots—in fact articles too numerous to mention:

'Sure, your 'onor, we are not going to let the Zouaves have it all!'

A stalwart Irish grenadier, when being rebuked for pilfering, answered:

'Sure an', your 'onor them nice gentlemen they call Zouaves have been after emptying the place clane out. Troth, if the Divil would kindly go to sleep for only one minute them Zouaves would stale one of his horns, if it was only useful to keep his coffee in.'

Truly these gentlemen were capital hands at fishing up all that was likely to be useful!

Some of our Hibernian boys had got a good haul, and were making off as fast as possible, when a party of Zouaves stopped them and wanted to go halves, but Paddy was not half such a fool as he was taken for—he would not give up anything until he had found out which was the best man, so the load was thrown down, and the Frenchmen were very soon satisfied and only too glad to get out of the way.

It was a common saying in camp that there was nothing too hot or too heavy for the Zouaves to walk off with; and where there was room for a rat, there was room for one of these nimble little gentlemen to get in. They proved themselves all, during the fighting, troublesome customers to the enemy; and now that the fight was over they distinguished themselves by pilfering everything they could lay hands upon. But they did not get all—our huts were made very comfortable by the wood that our men brought out of the town.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Friday, 3 July 2015

The Most Essential Condition of Service is Danger
Topic: The Field of Battle

The Most Essential Condition of Service is Danger

Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94, John A. Lynn, 1996

American troops in World War II definitely felt that their efforts were appreciated. Of 3,754 troops who were surveyed in the European theater, 82 percent answered that one half or more of the American people appreciated the soldiers' efforts. The last word has yet to be written concerning the American experience in Vietnam, but it is clear that the young men who fought in its jungles and rice paddies felt no such confidence in the folks back home. Some of the troops even went so far as to express their disillusionment by chalking "UUUU" on their helmets, that is "the unwilling led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful." There are indications that the young American in Vietnam was no less patriotic, tough, and capable than was his father in World War II. The great difference was that by the late 1960s a profoundly divided America could not applaud the soldier's actions. War resistance may have affected combat troops not so much by winning them over as political converts but by telling them that their suffering, endurance, and bravery would go unappreciated and unrewarded. The soldier could be left with the conviction that no one cared about him. He was a victim or sucker, fighting the war no one wanted.

Another aspect of wartime opinion is the status awarded to the wartime soldier. A nation that holds the peacetime soldier in contempt may glorify him at war. Perhaps it is only because an army swelled to wartime proportions contains a broad cross-section of society, so to look down on men in uniform is to look down on your own neighbors and sons. A last element of wartime opinion worth mention is the respect and aid given to soldiers' families. The knowledge that those at home are being honored and cared for not only frees a soldier's mind, but also tells him that he is respected and valued.

Reactions to conditions of service include opinions and feelings generated by the realities of the soldier's daily life. Some observers go so far as to say that good food, sufficient rest, efficient equipment, proper medical care, and frequent mail guarantee high morale. Experience does not always bear out this view, but such conditions are unquestionably important. Without doubt, good weapons give troops confidence while poor weapons sap it. Conditions of service also include less tangible, but very important elements, such as the character of discipline, the concern shown by company grade officers, and the competence of commanders. The momentum of victory or defeat is also a determinant of morale. An army marching from success to success has fewer morale problems than does the army it is defeating. Ultimately, troop reactions to all the elements of what will be called the military system become part of morale.

For the combat soldier, the most essential condition of service is danger and the fear it engenders. This point cannot be overstressed. Experience—time on the line—can teach a man to learn how to fight effectively, how to depend on his fellows, and how to deal with fear. Yet at the same time studies have demonstrated that courage has its season; men can only bear the burden of fear for a given amount of time before they collapse under its weight.' But fear is not the only condition that undermines morale after long periods at the front; boredom, too, takes its toll.

Canadian Army Battle Honours

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 23 June 2015 8:26 PM EDT
Thursday, 7 May 2015

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 2)
Topic: The Field of Battle

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 2)

War's Something More than Charts, Headlines

There's more. Much more, to the war in Vietnam than battle reports and casualty figures, statistics and strategy. Above all, there are the soldiers, the "GI Joes," each fighting for his life in a very personal way, in his own personal war. John Wheeler, who has been covering Vietnam for The Associated Press for years, recounts some of those personal experiences, funny and bitter, tragic and ironic, that make up the war in Vietnam.

Eugene Register-Guard, 18 August 1968
By John T. Wheeler, of Associated Press

For all the horror of war, there is still humor.

A reconnaissance team sat in its Army helicopter as it dived toward a landing zone deep in enemy territory. As the chopper leveled out, the door gunner panicked and pushed the first heavily laden recon man out while the chopper was still 25 feet in the air.

As the chopper dropped lower, the next man paused at the door, got a firm grip on the door gunner's arm and dragged him out when he jumped.

The door gunner, without adequate field gear, spent the next five days with the recon team. When the patrol was over, all the recon men were decorated. The door gunner got an official reprimand.

elipsis graphic

For a man on night ambush, there are many perils. Cpl. Jim Shepherd didn't know it that night, but he had one standing right beside him.

The Montpelier, Idaho, infantryman said later, "I felt something hit me on the arm. I thought it was the squad leader jabbing me.

Shepherd turned and faced not his squad leader but a grown tiger. The tiger, apparently satisfied that the 19-year-old corporal would make a satisfactory dinner, began dragging Shepherd away.

Shepherd pounded the tiger's face with his free right hand. He was afraid to try and jerk free for fear of losing his left arm. His buddies were afraid to shoot for fear of hitting him.

"He got me into the water and I guess he figured he couldn't get me across the creek. He probably didn't know what to do with me," Shepherd said.

What the tiger did do was drop Shepherd in the water and move majestically into the night in search of slightly smaller prey. Shepherd went to hospital for stitched and two weeks of antirabies shots.

elipsis graphic

The interdependence of men, especially in jungle warfare, has wrought what one officer called a revolutionary change in race relations in the military. Vietnam is the first war in which all U.S. units are thoroughly integrated.

A 25th Division battalion commander once said, "There is no room for bigotry in foxholes." The comment was made after a particularly bitter battle in "Hell's Half Acre" near the division's headquarters at Cu Chi.

During the fight, one U.S. squad was being systematically shot to pieces by Viet Cong snipers. Four bodies of white GIs lay deep in the snipers' kill zone. A powerfully built sergeant called out for volunteers to race out and pull the bodies and weapons in.

Spec. 4 Newman heard the call in the bottom of a trench where he was resting a hip wound. The Baltimore, Md., Negro was under no military compulsion to volunteer. There were enough unwounded men to do the job. But he scrambled painfully out of the trench and began running with a heavy limp into the kill zone.

The wound slowed him down. Everybody made it to protection in shell holes but Newman, whose side was opened up by a burst of enemy automatic weapons fire. Two men immediately leaped from the trench to rescue Newman. One was white, the other Negro.

Earlier in the war, a U.S. 101st Airborne company was commanded by a Negro captain from Atlanta, Ga. The captain was articulate, well;-educated and very much the commander of his men.

The company's first sergeant was the product of the Mississippi Delta, a white with little formal schooling.

The captain and the sergeant worked together in near perfect teamwork with frequent gusts of humor.

The battalion commander said that more of the company's men undoubtedly returned home alive that they would have if the relationship had been any different.

If race had been elbowed out of the foxholes, at least one chaplain says that the long-held belief that atheists are also absent is not true.

The chaplain, Navy Lt. Ray Stubble of Milwaukee, Wis., ministered to the 26th Marine Regiment during the worst days of the siege at Khe Sanh south of the DMZ.

Sitting in a bunker during one shelling, Stubbie said the proportion of atheists in foxholes and trenches was about the same as on any peaceful street in America.

What about the old saying, then, "There are no atheists in foxholes?"

"Maybe it was true once, but it isn't now. Perhaps the world has changed. I don't know. But the shelling isn't bringing in any more men for religious purposes," he said.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 1)
Topic: The Field of Battle

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 1)

War's Something More than Charts, Headlines

Eugene Register-Guard, 18 August 1968
By John T. Wheeler, of Associated Press

There's more. Much more, to the war in Vietnam than battle reports and casualty figures, statistics and strategy. Above all, there are the soldiers, the "GI Joes," each fighting for his life in a very personal way, in his own personal war. John Wheeler, who has been covering Vietnam for The Associated Press for years, recounts some of those personal experiences, funny and bitter, tragic and ironic, that make up the war in Vietnam.

SAIGON—In the battlefield, where the killing is done, the chaos of war makes a mockery of the neat, mimeographed battle plans and colored symbols arranged on wall maps back at headquarters.

For in the field, an incautious step, a minute flaw in a howitzer's sights, a commander's mistake, fortune's whimsy—almost anything—can kill a man or cripple his body.

Most GIs learn to conquer or control their fear of the predictable dangers of combat. But many find dealing with chaos and the bitter ironies it spawns a much tougher proposition.

They find that life—and death in the rice paddies, swamps, jungle and mountains often is the direct opposite of their backgrounds in a well-ordered civilization where the question "Why?" usually has an answer.

For the combat infantryman here, the question often is not only unanswerable but unasked.

elipsis graphic

For one Marine sergeant, the ironies piled up one atop the other at the very end of his 13-month tour in Vietnam.

During the hectic days of the siege at a Khe Sanh, routine paperwork often was delayed. One piece of late paperwork contained the order for the leatherneck to go home.

A day after he should have left Khe Sanh, the sergeant finally got his orders. His friends congratulated him. Home, today he was starting home.

The sergeant joked with his comrades in the trenches until the morning fog lifted and it was time to go to the airstrip for the last ride out.

Looking toward a hill infested with hidden North Vietnamese troops, the Marine emptied his pistol in their general direction. "Well, those are the last shots I'll fire in Nam," he said and climbed out of the trench.

Moments later, one of the 800 shells that hit Khe Sanh that day exploded near the sergent, sending steel splinters into his body.

Later when he was being evacuated by helicopter, he could muse not only on the red tape, but that he had won a much undesired third Purple Heart.

Under Marine regulations the third Purple Heart automatically means a man is sent out of the war zone no matter how long or short a time he had spent in Vietnam.

elipsis graphic

GIs are deeply superstitious about being "short-timers," men who are near the end of their combat tours. There have been many cases where battlefield savvy, extreme care and an unbroken chain of luck have failed a man at the last moment.

The sergeant major of one Marine battalion in the demilitarized zone area was within 14 days of returning to the States after fighting in his third war. In two months he would leave the military for good and retire.

One of his men called the grizzled veteran "the mole" because of the way he stayed near his sandbagged bunker.

One day during a prolonged lull in the routine enemy shelling, the sergeant major crawled out of his bunker and headed rapidly for the foxhole of another oldtimer who had hot coffee.

The lull ended midway between the bunkers and the sergeant major was killed instantly.

A few hours later a Marine CH46 helicopter began spiraling down with a full load of replacements, men just starting their Vietnam tour.

As usual, Communist mortar and artillery shells began dropping around the off-loading area as soon as the chopper landed. An 18-year-old Marine who had been in Vietnam only two days sprinted out the back door of the chopper and raced toward the safety of a trench line 100 yards away.

An older man, cursing his age and slowness was clear of the blast from the shell that exploded virtually at the private's feet 40 yards ahead. The youngster had led the field, but lost the race. He was the only one of 25 men to be hit.

elipsis graphic

Although the war unquestionably brutalizes most men who fight it, GIs sometimes voice another side they see to the coin.

A young, sandy-haired corporal from St. Louis stared into his half-emptied can of cold C rations and said:

"Somehow we're both better and worse than we were before we were pushed into this war up to our necks.

"Half the things I've seen and done here I hope I never have to think about again. And I sure wouldn't want my wife or family to know some of the things I've had to do.

"But at the same time there are times when we are all better than we were. I've never known friendship like I've found here. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for the guys in my fire team. And I sleep better knowing most of them feel the same way. Yeah, that's it. Sometimes we are better."

elipsis graphic

The better side, as the corporal called it, is the wellspring for much of the positive side of the war—heroism, endurance, determination and sacrifice—sometimes the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life for your comrades.

Many in Vietnam have heard the thump of an anemy grenade landing near them and in the midst of their comrades. Sometimes the grenade is on a trail, sometimes in a shell hole, sometimes among men huddled behind trees or termite mounds firing at an enemy only yards away.

More than a score of men have reacted instinctively—there is no time to pause and consider—by throwing themselves on the grenade to save their friends. The results normally are fatal to the man who cared enough.

Some men welcome war as a personal proving ground. Because they are in some way unsure of themselves, they press harder than most, taking reckless chances that will put some nagging fear or uncertainty to rest. Often these men return to the United States with several rows of ribbons on their chest. Often they go home in caskets, the questions and proof no longer relevant.

"You know, I'm going to sign over for another tour when my 12 months is up," a beardless 24-year-old lieutenant nicknamed Buddy said one night in the central highlands.

"This is the life for me, I'm going to try to stay in Vietnam for as long as the Army'll let me."

The next day Buddy's company was caught in an ambush which killed or wounded half the unit. Buddy was killed early in the action, leading a counterattack at the head of his men.

Only later did a correspondent who was with the unit learn from a family friend that Buddy was the son of a much-decorated World War II Army officer who was killed in action.

"All through childhood Buddy tried to live up to the standards of a father he had never known," the friend said.

elipsis graphic

No one questions the courage of the American fighting man and not a few tributes have come from the enemy which sets some pretty high standards for its own men. But the idea that Americans always charge into the guns or are spoiling for a fight isn't true.

In one instance an American unit under heavy fire lay behind what cover it could find. They had been ordered to assault up the hill. The sergeant called out the order, "When I count three, everyone move out." the order was passed down the line without elaboration. Minutes later the sergeant called out loudly, "One. Two. Three. Go." Everyone, including the sergeant, began running toward the rear—away from the hill.

"Nobody is going to be interested in that hill in a couple of days," the sergeant explained later. "We would have taken two or three men killed for each one we got. Those are very bad odds."

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Topic: The Field of Battle


Rorke's Drift, Michael Glover, 1997

If Chard had any qualms, they can scarcely have extended to the reliability of the Twenty-Fourth Foot. Their tradition of steadiness and bravery went back through Burgos, Alexandria and Malplaquet to Blenheim. No regiment of the line could excel them for reliability. On the other hand they had been a consistently unlucky regiment. Their first operation outside the British Isles had been a disastrous raid on Brest in 1694. In 1741 they were at the mismanaged, fever-ridden siege of Cartagena in what is now Colombia, an operation which cost them twelve officers and eight hundred men. Fifteen years later they were one of the regiments which had had to surrender when Admiral Byng failed to relieve Minorca. In 1777 they had had to capitulate again with Burgoyne at Saratoga. At Talavera they lost almost half their strength in extricating the Guards Brigade from the consequences of their uncontrollable ardour. A year later, in 1810, two shiploads of their 1st battalion had been captured by a French warship off Madagascar. The colours had been thrown overboard to keep them out of the enemy's hands. None of these misfortunes were of the regiment's own making but, taken together, they suggested that if there was any bad luck to be had the Twenty-Fourth would have it.

The officers of both battalions of the regiment had dined together at Helpmakaar two days before the advance into Zululand had started. It was a few days short of the thirtieth anniversary of Chillianwallah and Captain William Degacher, second-in-command of the 1st battalion, proposed the toast, "That we may not get into such a mess, and better luck next time"- Twenty-one of the officers present were to die in action within a fortnight.

Chillianwallah, a village near the Jhelum river sixty miles south of Rawalpindi, was the scene of a desperate battle in the second Sikh war. 12,000 British and Indian troops attacked 30,000 Sikhs in a naturally strong position. The Twenty-Fourth formed part of a division commanded by Colin Campbell, later the hero of the Indian Mutiny. Having given their brigadier his objective, Campbell rode away to supervise his other brigade pausing only to tell the Twenty-Fourth to make the attack without firing a shot. They advanced through thick jungle which broke them into small detachments before they came in sight of the enemy. Refusing them time to reform their brigadier urged them on to the attack. Under a storm of grapeshot, which killed the impetuous brigadier, they advanced 850 yards, reached the Sikh guns and spiked them. They suffered heavily and had no semblance of regular order. Their flanks were in the air, as the sepoy battalions ordered to support them had not come forward. A Sikh counter-attack overwhelmed them. They had gone into action with 31 officers and 1,065 other ranks. 13 officers and 225 men were killed, 9 officers and 278 men were wounded. The Queen's Colour was lost. [Footnoted: The Colour was not captured by the Sikhs. When the ensign carrying it was killed, it was rescued by a private soldier who wrapped it round his body under his tunic for safety. He was killed soon after and, unwittingly, the colour was buried with him.] Five years later one of the consolations offered to a survivor of the charge of the Light Brigade was 'It is nothing to Chillianwallah'.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 15 April 2015

El Alamein 1942
Topic: The Field of Battle

El Alamein

Military Customs, Major T.J. Edwards, M.B.E., F.R.Hist.S., 1947

And so all through the centuries the British soldier has sung his victorious way through numerous battlefields all over the world, quite undaunted by adverse circumstances.

At the Battle of El Alamein in October, 1942, an American officer was attached to a British armoured division. He witnessed our advance through the Axis artillery barrage and through the well-set minefields. Writing to a friend in New York, he said:

"Incidentally, while I'm on the subject, I'd like to say something about the British Tommy. There's no finer or braver fighting man in the world than the Tommy. For sheer guts and ability to keep coming back time and after, he has no superiors. I remember vividly one night at Alamein, just before the push, that to me exemplifies the fighting qualities of the British. It was in the southern sector, and the Jerries were tucked in snugly behind three minefields. They were trying to get through the minefields. The idea was that the tanks were to blast their way through the minefield gap, spread out on the other side of the fields, and work their way forward. We were being followed up by a unit of light infantry.

"Well, the tanks got through the minefields all right, and the medical officer and I stopped on the other side of the third gap, about three hundred yards behind the tanks. Then all hell broke loose as Jerry opened up with everything he had: 88s, heavy ack-ack fired along the ground, small arms, everything. The tanks were forced to drop back on us, and we had so many casualties we couldn't back up. And then, in the face of one of the worst barrages I have seen, the infantry came up to us and started through.

"I have never witnessed anything like it. At a steady walk, with their rifles at the port, looking straight ahead, they marched into it. I saw men with their heads blown off as they walked, men with arms and legs shot away. There was no hope of getting through, but they kept on, wave after wave of them, and they marched in singing. Usually you could just sort of feel the beat of it under the barrage, but occasionally, for a few brief seconds, the noise of the firing would lift and you'd hear their voices rolling out. I don't think I have ever felt such pride in fellow-men. I was just mightily proud of mankind in general."

What a tribute to the dauntless spirit and sense of duty of the British soldier!

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Monday, 23 March 2015

An Avoidable Death, South Africa
Topic: The Field of Battle

An Avoidable Death, South Africa

With the Royal Canadians, Stanley McKeown Brown, 1900

For the first time the seriousness of the actual campaign broke on the Canadian regiment, and again the next day as a sad and impressive funeral cortege wended its way out over the sandy veldt, …

Two nights sufficed for the Canadians at Orange River, during the first of which a very sad shooting accident occurred in the Shropshire regiment, which was lying side by side with our men and which battalion was at a future date to form part of the now famous 19th Brigade along with the Royal Canadians.

The country around for miles was strongly patrolled at night and every precaution was taken to keep the Boers from taking our little garrison by surprise.

Out into the dark night the Shropshires sent a heavy picket with instructions to the men to be very careful to challenge every person who might come in or out of camp. At the foot of a kopje one of the men of the Shropshires stood on sentry, another private of the same regiment was returning to camp. The sentry promptly challenged, "Halt! who comes there?" and failing to call "Friend," the returning soldier said, "Oh, to you know me." These were fatal words, for no sooner had they been spoken when three ringing shots sounded through the Orange River garrison, three steady shots from the sentry's rifle, and his companion-in-arms fell, never to rise to life again. It was an unfortunate occurrence which cast gloom over the whole camp, but it shows that the rigidity of military discipline should not be trifled with.

For the first time the seriousness of the actual campaign broke on the Canadian regiment, and again the next day as a sad and impressive funeral cortege wended its way out over the sandy veldt, the men from our Dominion saw in reality a dark side which to them was new, and attended with a solemnity which was doubly solemn on the sands of Africa.

To slow music with bayonets fixed and arms reversed the creeping kharki procession passed by the lines of the Royal Canadians, and a hush came on the camp. Then it was that many a man shuddered as he thought of a burial in South Africa, thousands of miles from where any of his friends could ever see his grave or ever plant a flower on his last resting place.

There are times at war when one is pensive and reflective, that is when one sees a comrade buried with all the impressive ceremony of a military funeral. When the muffled drums resound but to a slow dirge; when the gun carriage with its gloomy coffin load, wrapped in a Union Jack death pall, lumbers along to a waiting grave, unsympathetically jolting the soldier on the way to his last lone bed. Sorrow is written on the faces of every rugged and sunburnt man of arms, as with reluctant steps he nears the burial place of his lost companion. The funeral notes of the mournful music have the effect of striking into a living man's soul a deep hatred of death in a foreign clime. The sand or limestone "six feet of earth," on a South African field, seems but a mean mockery of a proper grave; the shallow bed seems too short for that last long sleep, too narrow for a quiet rest of such duration as it is bound to be. The sewn-up blanket in which the soldier is shrouded makes at times but a poor, scanty apology for the sound coffin one is used to seeing on such occasions in peace time. The spades of earth thrown in on the human form as it bulges in the blanket seems a scarce sepulchre; the volleys from the muzzles of the rifles over the grave are like empty messages to the dead, and the quivering "last post," which the bugles blast over the silent mound after the burial service, are but a brazen farewell to the soldier as he lies free from the care of campaign, "where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest."

Then, according to military custom, the burial party starts from the lonely spot, and, where they before had come marching to slow music, the band at once strikes up a quickstep, and as if tired of the tedium of the service, swing with a dashing air back to the camp, till Death's hand beckons another fighter home, and the dead marches are again called into requisition.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Thursday, 19 March 2015

Topic: The Field of Battle

Massacre At Ulundi, by James E. McConnell


The Washing of the Spears; The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation, Donald R. Morris, 1965

The outline of the square was perfectly marked on the rise by the thick windrows of expended cartridges; the troops had fired over 35,000 rounds.

[Following the battle of Ulundi,] Chelmsford finally ordered the guns to limber up, broke the square and marched the men to the banks of the Mbilane, where the force rested and dined on the contents of its haversacks. A surprising number of officers had packed a bottle or two of champagne into their kits for just this occasion, and they toasted the victory in the warm and gassy wine. A few working details were still busy on the knoll; the engineers were gathering equipment, and the dressing station was preparing the wounded for the trip back to the laager. The outline of the square was perfectly marked on the rise by the thick windrows of expended cartridges; the troops had fired over 35,000 rounds. The surgeons made their report. Wyatt-Edgell was dead and Lieutenant George Astell Pardoe of the 1st/13th had been shot through both thighs. Eighteen other officers had been wounded more or less seriously, including four of the mounted staff officers. Chelmsford's aide, the naval lieutenant Milne who had climbed a tree to observe the camp at Isandhlwana, had been grazed by a bullet. Ten men had been killed and 69 wounded. There was no accurate count of the Zulu dead, and not even an estimate of their wounded, but over a thousand bodies lay on the slopes and in the path of the mounted pursuit.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT

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