Break out the Roger!

40 years ago today: The Churchill-class nuclear-powered fleet submarine HMS/m Conqueror (S-48) returns to her base at Faslane, Scotland, flying the Jolly Roger after sinking the Argentine cruiser ARA Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix, CL-46) during the Falklands War some eight weeks prior. Pictured on 3 July 1982, it was the first time a Royal Navy submarine flew a ‘Roger since World War II.

While “Conks” was decommissioned in 1990 after just 19 years of service– in the best tradition of the Admiralty’s bean counters– and sent for recycling, the Roger is on display at the Royal Navy Museum.

Marines do Gettysburg to Prep for Guadalcanal

Some 100 Years Ago This Weekend: Across early July 1922, the Marine Corps East Coast Expeditionary Force, based at Quantico, Virginia, headed to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for maneuvers and field exercises on the 59th anniversary of the great Civil War battle there. Spearheaded by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, the maneuvers and exercises, were also utilized as a method of obtaining favorable publicity and were often attended by the President and other dignitaries at the time.

All photos are via the Marine Corps History Division which has a great catalog of the event.

Two Civil War veterans post for a photograph with Marine Corps artillery in Gettysburg in July 1922

Excercise included road march via vehicle from Virginia to Gettysburg. Note the back tractor tows a 155mm heavy artillery piece.

Marine participants in the reenactment are carried off the field. Gettysburg 1922

Marine perform maintenance on three M1917 FT17 Renault light tanks during the 1922 Gettysburg maneuvers helped win the battle for Confederates

Marines skirmishing along the Emmitsburg Road during the 1922 Gettysburg maneuvers

Of note, Chesty Puller and the gang would use abatis, or chevaux de frise, a classic defensive anti-cavalry measure common in the Civil War, to defend Henderson Field against the Japanese in August 1942.

Cheval de frise/Frisian horses by Ponder House, Battle of Atlanta, Fort X 1864

Chevaux de frise anti-cavalry measures at Fort Blakely, Alabama. Dating to medieval times, they were still effective in the 1860s. photo by Chris Eger

Bamboo cheval de frise gates around the Coffin Corner area covering trails into Marine lines Guadalcanal 1942. Hey, if it works, it ain’t stupid. Those who don’t study history…

RIMPAC on Parade

You gotta love RIMPAC just for the sheer quantity of exotic vessels on display. This year’s exercise draws from 26 nations contributing 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel from June 29 to Aug 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

How about this shot of a Zumwalt with two Canadian Halifax-class ASW frigates and an old British Type 23, now in Chilean service.

U.S. Navy Zumwalt-class destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001), Armada de Chile frigate Almirante Lynch (FF 07)– ex-HMS Grafton (F80)– along with the Royal Canadian Navy frigates HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338) and HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331), transits the Pacific Ocean to attend RIMPAC 2022. MC3 Megan Alexander

One of the neater aspects is the fact that four different USV platforms will be at work for this RIMPAC, highlighted in this image of three of them traveling in formation:

USV Nomad, Sea Hunter, and Ranger in formation RIMPAC 2022

USV Nomad

USV Sea Hunter

USV Ranger

Let’s look at some of the other interesting units showing up at Pearl this week.

HMAS Warramunga (FFH 152) of Australia. A German MEKO 200 design built in the late 1990s and much-modified with an Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) upgrade in 2014, as noted by her CEAFAR active electronically scanned array radars fitted.

French Floréal-class surveillance frigate, FS Prairial (F731).

JS Izumo (DDH-183) Japan’s new F-35 carrier

Martadinata-class frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332) of Indonesia, built to a Dutch design.

Patrulla Oceánica de Largo Alcance ARM Benito Juárez (F101) of Mexico. Built by ASTIMAR to a SIGMA 10514 design by Damen– much like the Indonesian frigate above– she is the first of the Reformador-class and carries U.S.-supplied weapons including Harpoons, an eight-cell MK56 VLS launcher for ESSMs, MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes with two MK 32 SVTT triple tube launchers, a Block II RAM, and a 57mm Bofors Mk 110. Keep in mind this is a 350-foot, 2,500-ton vessel. Why can’t the U.S. Navy have 30 of these instead of the LCS classes (and the Coast Guard use the same design for its 25 new Offhore Patrol Cutters?) What could have been, right?

ARM Usumacinta (A-412), of the Armada de México. If the LST looks familiar, she is the former American Newport-class tank landing ship USS Frederick (LST-1184), transferred in 2002. Looking pretty clean for a 54-year-old ‘phib.

ROKN Marado (LPH-6112) RIMPAC 2022

ROK South Korean submarine Sohn Won-yil, ROKS Shin Dol-seok (SS-082), complete with welcome lae

OPCs of Mobile Bay

We’ve covered the USCG’s new Offshore Patrol Cutter program at length.

OPC Characteristics:
•Length: 360 feet
•Beam: 54 feet
•Draft: 17 feet
•Sustained Speed: 22 Plus knots
•Range: 8500 Plus nautical miles
•Endurance: 60 Days

The main armament is a Mk 110 57mm gun forward with a MK 38 Mod 3 25mm gun over the stern HH60-sized hangar, and four M2 .50 cal mounts. 

I say replace the Mk38 with a C-RAM, shoehorn a towed sonar, ASW tubes, an 8-pack Mk41 VLS crammed with Sea Sparrows, and eight NSSMs aboard and call it a day. The Mexicans do the same loadout with the new Reformador-class frigates on a hull the same size, so why not us? 

The first flight of 11 OPCs has been awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG) and they have four– class leader USCGC Argus (WMSM 915), followed by USCGC Chase (WMSM 916), USCGC Ingham (WMSM 917) and USCGC Rush (WMSM 918)— in various stages of completion already at their Nelson Street facility in Panama City.

Well, the Coast Guard, in an effort to get all 25+ of these hulls completed ASAP to replace both the elderly 1960s-era 210-foot Reliance and aging 1980s-era 270-foot Bear-class cutters, announced on Thursday that a second yard, Austal in Mobile, Alabama, would get to work on the second flight of 11 OPCs, a contract estimated at being worth $3 billion smackers (which is a deal these days for 11 American frigate-sized OPVs).

The announcement via USCG HQ, Washington:

WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract to Austal USA of Mobile, Ala. to produce up to 11 offshore patrol cutters (OPCs). The initial award is valued at $208.26 million and supports detail design and long lead-time material for the fifth OPC, with options for production of up to 11 OPCs in total. The contract has a potential value of up to $3.33 billion if all options are exercised.

In 2019, the Coast Guard revised the OPC acquisition strategy to mitigate emergent cost and schedule risk by establishing a new, full and open competition for OPCs five and through 15, designated as Stage 2 of the overall program. Informed by industry feedback received through a robust engagement strategy, the Coast Guard released a request for proposal Jan. 29, 2021, for OPC Stage 2 detail design and production. The Coast Guard’s requirements for OPC Stage 2 detail design and production were developed to maintain commonality with earlier OPCs in critical areas such as the hull and propulsion systems, but provide flexibility to propose and implement new design elements that benefit lifecycle cost, production and operational efficiency and performance.

“The offshore patrol cutter is absolutely vital to Coast Guard mission excellence as we recapitalize our legacy medium endurance cutters, some of which are more than 50 years old,” said Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard. “The OPCs are the ships our crews need to protect our national security, maritime safety and economic prosperity. I look forward to the new cutters joining our fleet.”

The 25-ship OPC program of record complements the capabilities of the service’s national security cutters, fast response cutters and polar security cutters as an essential element of the Department of Homeland Security’s layered maritime security strategy. The OPC will meet the service’s long-term need for cutters capable of deploying independently or as part of task groups and is essential to stopping smugglers at sea, interdicting undocumented non-citizens, rescuing mariners, enforcing fisheries laws, responding to disasters and protecting ports.

Austal, of course, is the joint Australian-American operation that has built the controversial Independence-class of littoral combat ships and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ships, all notably with composite hulls. The OPCs will be the company’s first steel-hulled warships.

That has caused some heartburn with Florida Congresscritters.

From U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla-2:

The Coast Guard made a mistake in its Offshore Patrol Cutter stage II decision. Eastern Shipbuilding is known for quality products and the Coast Guard knows this. I am very concerned the foreign company awarded the contract lacks experience in building steel vessels. This will ultimately cost taxpayers more money, and further delay these ships from entering service to protect our nation’s shores. My office will work to push the Coast Guard to reconsider this decision.

I will continue to fight for more economic opportunity for the people of Florida’s Second Congressional District.

Take a minute and listen to this

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the British Army’s new Chief of the General Staff, recently attended the RUSI (The Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studie) conference and, speaking to the group, stated the UK and its allies face a “1937 moment” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It is an interesting take on current events in Europe, and his plans for mobilization, a historically scary word.

The transcript:

I stand here as the first Chief of the General Staff since 1941 to take up this position in the shadow of a major state on state land war in Europe. As I do, I’m reminded of the words of a man in whose footsteps I tread. In relative obscurity, and recognising the impending danger the nation faced, the then Brigadier Bernard Montgomery wrote this in the pages of that magnificent publication Royal Engineers’ Journal of 1937:

We have got to develop new methods, and learn a new technique…. There is no need to continue doing a thing merely because it has been done in the Army for the last thirty or forty years – if this is the only reason for doing it, then it is high time we changed and did something else.

For us, today, that “something else” is mobilising the Army to meet the new threat we face: a clear and present danger that was realised on 24th February when Russia used force to seize territory from Ukraine, a friend of the United Kingdom. But let me be clear, the British Army is not mobilising to provoke war – it is mobilising to prevent war.

The scale of the war in Ukraine is unprecedented. 103 Battalion Tactical Groups committed. Up to 33,000 Russians dead, wounded, missing or captured. A casualty rate of up to 200 per day amongst the Ukrainian defenders. 77,000 square kilometres of territory seized – 43% of the total landmass of the Baltic states. Ammunition expenditure rates that would exhaust the combined stockpiles of several NATO countries in a matter of days. The deliberate targeting of civilians with 4,700 civilian dead. 8 million refugees. For us, the visceral nature of a European land war is not just some manifestation of distant storm clouds on the horizon; we can see it now.

In all my years in uniform, I haven’t known such a clear threat to the principles of sovereignty and democracy, and the freedom to live without fear of violence, as the brutal aggression of President Putin and his expansionist ambitions. I believe we are living through a period in history as profound as the one that our forebears did over 80 years ago. Now, as then, our choices will have a disproportionate effect on our future.

This is our 1937 moment. We are not at war – but we must act rapidly so that we aren’t drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion. So surely it is beholden on each of us to ensure that we never find ourselves asking that futile question – should we have done more? I will do everything in my power to ensure that the British Army plays its part in averting war; I will have an answer to my grandchildren should they ever ask what I did in 2022.

We have agency to prevent war now. But only if we take a new approach.

These are extraordinary times. So I will not take the usual approach of a new CGS to this event. It will not be the traditional tour of the horizon covering the full breadth of Army business. I will concentrate on one area alone – how I intend to mobilise the British Army – our Regulars, Reservists and Civilians – to deter Russian aggression. To prevent war.

We are already a busy Army. But today is about mobilisation, and to mobilise effectively we will need to suppress our additive culture and guard against the ‘tyranny of and’ – we can’t do everything well and some things are going to have to stop; it will mean ruthless prioritisation.

From now the Army will have a singular focus – to mobilise to meet today’s threat and thereby prevent war in Europe.

This is not the rush to war at the speed of the railway time tables of 1914. It is instead an acceleration of the most important parts of Future Soldier’s bold modernisation agenda, a move to a positional strategy, an increased focus on readiness and combined arms training and a broader institutional renewal that creates the culture required to win if called upon. This process, given a name Operation MOBILISE, will be the Army’s primary focus over the coming years.

So why do we need to mobilise?

Under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary, the United Kingdom has risen to meet Moscow’s aggression. Defence has worked at a phenomenal pace to bring together a coalition of partners to provide materiel, intelligence and training to sustain Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invaders. Our bi-lateral relationship with Kyiv has gone from strength to strength; this year alone we have supplied 9500 anti-tank missiles, of which over 5000 were NLAW. We have already provided UK-based training for 650 AFU soldiers, and in the coming months, the British Army will deliver battle-winning skills to a further 10,000 Its just started.

The upcoming Madrid Summit is a timely opportunity to demonstrate our leadership in NATO and our enduring commitment to our allies. Mobilising the Army to prevent war is as tangible and concrete an act of leadership as I can offer – the UK will lead by example.

It is dangerous to assume that Ukraine is a limited conflict; one of its obvious lessons is that Putin’s calculations do not always follow our logic. It’s also worth remembering that historically, Russia often starts wars badly. And because Russia wages war at the strategic, not the tactical level – its depth and resilience means it can suffer any number of campaigns, battles and engagements lost, regenerate and still ultimately prevail. History has also shown us that armies that have tasted defeat learn more quickly. While Russia’s conventional capability will be much reduced – for a time, at least – Putin’s declared intent recently to restore the lands of ‘historic Russia’ makes any respite temporary and the threat will become even more acute. We don’t yet know how the war in Ukraine will end, but in most scenarios, Russia will be an even greater threat to European security after Ukraine than it was before. The Russian invasion has reminded us of the time-honoured maxim that if you want to avert conflict, you better be prepared to fight.

So this is the challenge that I will address through mobilisation. And to make it crystal clear – This means focusing on winning the war, working with these allies, against this threat and in this location. And we will see the first orders issued in Madrid tomorrow.

This threat has also materialised at a time when the world is already looking less secure – the viewpoint set out clearly in last year’s Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper. In meeting a revanchist Russia, we cannot be guilty of myopically chasing the ball. Defence cannot ignore the exponential rise and chronic challenge of China, not just within the South China Sea but through its sub-threshold activities across the globe. Beijing will be watching our response to Moscow’s actions carefully. But ceding more territory to Putin could prove a fatal blow to the principle of national sovereignty that has underpinned the international order since 1945. And we cant allow NATO states to live with the grim reality of the human cost of occupation that we see in front of us.

Given the commitments of the US in Asia during the 20s and 30s, I believe that the burden for conventional deterrence in Europe will fall increasingly to European members of NATO and the JEF. This is right in my view: taking up the burden in Europe means we can free more US resources to ensure that our values and interests are protected in the Indo-Pacific

And we are not alone in facing this new reality. Looking out at you here today I am reassured by the number of allies and partners I see before me. The faces of friends from previous campaigns where we have shared hardship and laughter, failures and victories. We have shed blood together. We remember those we left behind. And it this our willingness to shed blood to protect our common values and each other’s territory that will see us prevail.

So, how are we going to mobilise?

Article V remains the cornerstone of our national security; that makes it a critical national interest. The conflict in Ukraine will herald I think a paradigm shift in how NATO delivers collective deterrence; from a doctrine of reacting to crises, to one of deterring them. This principle is at the heart of Op MOBILISE: Russia knowing that they cannot gain a quick localised victory – that in any circumstances and any time frame they will lose if they pick a fight with NATO.

Deterrence demands all of the tools of statecraft, underpinned by soldiers, sailors, aviators and Civil Servants operating across all five operational domains. It requires forces across Defence that are modernised, relevant, and harness the potential of the fourth industrial revolution. Effective deterrence also means communicating clearly so we maximise deterrent effect without increasing the risk of mobilisation.

When faced with an adversary such as Mr Putin, with the campaigns of Peter the Great as his reference point, the war in Ukraine also reminds us of the utility of Land Power: it takes an army to hold and regain territory and defend the people who live there. It takes an Army to deter. And this army, the British Army, will play its part alongside our allies.

In Ukraine we’ve seen the limitations of deterrence by punishment. It has reinforced the importance of deterrence through denial – we must stop Russia seizing territory – rather than expecting to respond to a land grab with a delayed counteroffensive.

To succeed, the British Army, in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners, must be in-place or at especially high readiness – ideally a mix of both. Tripwires aren’t enough. If we fail to deter, there are no good choices given the cost of a potential counterattack and the associated nuclear threat. We must, therefore, meet strength with strength from the outset and be unequivocally prepared to fight for NATO territory.

If this battle came, we would likely be outnumbered at the point of attack and fighting like hell. Standoff air, maritime or cyber fires are unlikely to dominate on their own – Land will still be the decisive domain. And though I bow to no one in my advocacy for the need for game changing digital transformation, to put it bluntly, you can’t cyber your way across a river. No single platform, capability, or tactic will unlock the problem.

Success will be determined by combined arms and multi-domain competence. And mass. Ukraine has also shown that engaging with our adversaries and training, assisting and reassuring our partners is high payoff activity. Future Soldier’s new Ranger Regiment – on the ground in Ukraine before the invasion – and the new Security Force Assistance Brigade are well set for this. With the right partner and in the right conditions persistent engagement and capacity building can be really effective. Operation ORBITAL has made a key contribution to preparing the Armed Forces of Ukraine for this fight and it continues to expand exponentially. And We must be wary of Russia’s malign activities further afield – our global hubs, including Kenya and Oman, will still play a vital role as we seek to mobilise to meet aggression in Europe – allowing us to help our partners there secure strategic advantage elsewhere in the world.

This is the war that we are mobilising to prevent, by preparing to win. With our NATO and JEF partners. Against the Russian threat. In Eastern and Northern Europe. And in doing so it is my hope that we never have to fight it.

So what does this mean for the Army…

My predecessor, and my friend, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, laid the foundations for the most ambitious transformation of the British Army in a generation, Future Soldier. We, I owe him a great debt. The Government has also generously committed 41 billion pounds to Army equipment over the next decade.

But as we face a new reality, a race to mobilise, we must be honest with ourselves about Future Soldiers’ timelines, capability gaps and risks – and now our own diminished stockpiles as a result of Gifting in Kind to the brave soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We should not be afraid of necessary heresies. Defence is only as strong as its weakest domain. And technology does not eliminate the relevance of combat mass.

To mobilise the Army I intend to drive activity across four focused lines of effort:

First, and most importantly, boosting readiness. NATO needs highly ready forces that can deploy at short notice for the collective defence of alliance members. Deterring Russia means more of the Army ready more of the time, and ready for high-intensity war in Europe. So we will pick up the pace of combined arms training, and major on urban combat. We will re-build our stockpiles and review the deployability of our vehicle fleet. And having seen its limitations first-hand as the Commander of the Field Army, I think we need to ask ourselves whether Whole Fleet Management is the right model given the scale of the threat we face. The time has come to be frank about our ability to fight if called upon.

Second, we will accelerate the modernisation outlined in Future Soldier. NATO needs technologically advanced modern armies able to deploy at speed and fight together. They must be able to integrate effects across the domains, all stitched together by a sophisticated and robust command, control and communication network. We will seek to speed up the delivery of planned new equipments including long range fires, attack aviation, persistent surveillance and target acquisition, expeditionary logistic enablers, Ground Based Air Defence, protected mobility, and the technologies that will prove pivotal to our digital ambition: CIS and Electronic Warfare. Most importantly, this will start now – not at some ill-defined point in the future.

Third, we will re-think how we fight. We’ve been watching the war in Ukraine closely and we are already learning and adapting. Not least to the help of RUSI, Many of the lessons are not new – but they are now applied. We will double-down on combined arms manoeuvre, especially in the deep battle, and devise a new doctrine rooted in geography, integrated with NATO’s war plans and specific enough to drive focused, relevant investment and inspire the imagination of our people to fight and win if called upon.

And Fourth, I am prepared to look again at the structure of our Army. If we judge that revised structures will make the Army better prepared to fight in Europe, then we will follow Monty’s advice and do “something else”. Now of course adapting structures has implications for the size of the Army – and I know that there will be questions on Army numbers locked, loaded and ready to fire from the audience! Put simply, the threat has changed and as the threat changes, we will change with it. My job is to build the best Army possible, ready to integrate with fellow Services and Strategic command and ready to fight alongside our allies. Obviously our Army has to be affordable; nonetheless, it would be perverse if the CGS was advocating reducing the size of the Army as a land war rages in Europe and Putin’s territorial ambitions extend into the rest of the decade, and beyond Ukraine.

Importantly, the four mechanisms I have used to illustrate how the Army will mobilise will all be initiated from the line of march. This means now rather than in some distant and ill-defined point in the future.

Op MOBILISE is as much about people as it is about training and hardware. The last 125 days of conflict in Ukraine have shown us if we needed showing the enduring nature of war; its violent and human nature, and its timeless interplay of friction and chance. It has reminded us all that war fundamentally remains a clash of wills. Russia’s so called ‘Special Military Operation’ has shown that while Moscow may have invested in some of the most modernised land technology in the world, it lacked the will to fight when faced with a tenacious Ukrainian defence. Let down by its leaders, we have seen the moral decay of the Russian Army play out in front of us.

The fighting spirit of our people is the Army’s single greatest responsibility. The moral component matters. To succeed in mobilising we must ensure that we engender the culture and behaviour required to forge and cohere a confident and winning team, and, in my 37 years’ experience, I have learnt that trust increases tempo. I am fully behind the TEAMWORK initiative set up by my predecessor. It is not woke-ism nor in any way a lessening of standards at a time where the British Army must be prepared to engage in warfare at its most violent. To put it simply, you don’t need to be laddish to be lethal – in a scrap you have to truly trust those on your left and right.

And when the British Army has been faced with any challenge during its long history, it has always been the ingenuity of our people that has seen us through. I know there will be an opportunity cost to mobilising – and we must continually review and balance our priorities to meet emerging threats. But mobilisation also requires us to cut down that which slows us down. I want to you all, I’m talking to the Army here to identify those areas of our process and bureaucracy that take up your time – like any public institution we have accumulated some barnacles that slow us down – but we are not just any institution, so it’s time to strip them back.

Mobilisation is not just an internal focus. We must take industry with us and have the right relationships with our enabling agents to deliver and quicken the ambitious modernisation targets we have set ourselves. I will use the next few months to engage personally with you, our industry partners and encourage you to use the framework offered by the new Land Industrial Strategy to make the Army more lethal and more effective, with better equipment in the hands of our soldiers at best speed. We can’t be lighting the factory furnaces across the nation on the eve of war; this effort must start now if we want to prevent war from happening.

I’d be naïve if I ignored the fact that the Army’s platform procurement has not been a smooth journey during the last decade. We have the humility to learn the lessons from where it has gone wrong and the confidence to engage with industry to generate the mutual trust required to get the very latest technology for the best value for money. And we should also be bolder in celebrating our successes – AH64 Echo is flying now, the first Boxer will be in service in 2023, the first Challenger 3 arrives in 2024 ‘and the Sky Sabre air defence system was deployed and operating in Poland only weeks after entering service.

This speech forms my first order of the day. Mobilisation is now the main effort. We are mobilising the Army to help prevent war in Europe by being ready to fight and win alongside our NATO allies and partners. It will be hard work – a generational effort – and I expect all ranks to get ready, train hard and engage. We must be practical and cut through unnecessary bureaucracy, be prepared to deprioritise where activity is not mission critical, honestly highlight risks where we identify them and avoid falling victim to the say-do gap or the lure of institutional panaceas – conscious of the advice of the late, great, John Le Carre that Whitehall panaceas often simply go ‘out with a whimper, leaving behind…the familiar English muddle’.

I expect this change to be command led. And that includes all commanders: from the General in Main Building, to the young Lance Corporal in the barrack room, from the reservist officer on a weekend exercise, to the Civil Servant in Army Headquarters.

And as we mobilise, I echo the words of General Montgomery to his team in the dust of the North African desert in 1942, “we must have confidence in one another”…

As the new CGS I have confidence in each and every one of you. And I am proud to stand among you.

And my final message to you is this:

This is the moment to defend the democratic values that define us;

This is the moment to help our brave Ukrainian allies in their gallant struggle;

This is the moment we stand with our friends and partners to maintain peace throughout the rest of Europe.

This is our moment. Seize it.

So long, Woody

Marine Corps retired CWO4 Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, the last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient, passed away early this morning, June 29, 2022. Woody was surrounded by his family at the VA Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia.

According to the National WWII Museum, there was 473 Medal of Honor recipients from the war. Of these, 333 were in the Army, 82 in the Marines, 57 in the Navy, and one in the Coast Guard.

Born on October 2, 1923, in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, Woody enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on 26 May 1943 and advanced to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 before his retirement in 1969 after 17 years of service. During WWII, Woody served in New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, and Guam before landing in Iwo Jima where his actions on 23 February 1945 earned him a well-deserved Medal of Honor.

His Citation, issued as a Corporal in 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, 3D Marine Division: 

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as demolition sergeant serving with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945. Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands, Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. On one occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants, and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon. His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strongpoints encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective. Cpl. Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Salute from Gen. David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps:

“On behalf of all Marines, Sgt. Maj. Black and I are heartbroken to learn of Woody’s passing. From his actions on Iwo Jima to his lifelong service to our Gold Star Families, Woody has left an indelible mark on the legacy of our Corps. As the last of America’s “Greatest Generation” to receive the Medal of Honor, we will forever carry with us the memory of his selfless dedication to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to our great Nation. The Marine Corps is fortunate to have many heroes, but there is only one Woody Williams. Semper Fidelis, Marine.”

From the MCPON:

Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient and gallant inspiration both in and out of service, passed away today at the age of 98.

He will be remembered not only for his heroism at the Battle of Iwo Jima, but also as an American Veteran who spent his remaining years selflessly dedicating his life to his community, the Veterans Affairs, and to Gold Star families.

According to the VA, about 16 million Americans served during WWII, and only 240,329 were still with us in 2021.
Sadly, the Greatest Generation is almost mustered out.

‘Eyes on the Gulf

Official caption: “Gulf Of Mexico. A pair of T-2C Buckeye aircraft wait behind the blast deflector on the flight deck of the auxiliary aircraft landing training ship USS Lexington (AVT-16) for their turns at the catapult during pilot carrier training. On the corner of the flight deck at upper right are parked a C-2A Greyhound aircraft and a Coast Guard HH-65A Dolphin helicopter, 4/1/1989.”

U.S. Navy photograph 330-CFD-DN-ST-89-08969. Photographer Jim Bryant. Via NARA. National Archives Identifier: 6445247

Note the stenciling of the “Flying Tigers” of Training Squadron 26 (TRARON 26) and “USS Lexington” on the Buckeyes.

“The Blue Ghost,” Lady Lex was the ninth “short bow” Essex-class fleet carrier ordered prior to the U.S. entrance to WWII and was laid down five months prior to Pearl Harbor under the intention of being named USS Cabot. However, two weeks after the Battle of Midway, she was renamed for the combat-lost USS Lexington (CV-2) and carried that name when commissioned on 17 February 1943.

Earning 11 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation fighting her way across the Pacific, Lex spent eight years in mothballs post-WWII then rejoined the fleet in 1955 as CVA-16 after an SCB-27C/125 angled deck modernization. Redesignated an anti-submarine carrier (CVS-16) in 1962, while most of her modded sisterships saw extensive combat off Vietnam, Lexington arrived at Pensacola in 1969 for work as the Navy’s dedicated training carrier (CVT-16, then AVT-16 after 1978), spending a solid 22 years shuffling across the Gulf of Mexico between Corpus Christi and P-Cola on carrier trials. She was, by 15 years, the last of her class on active service and the last WWII-era flattop still working.

She is currently preserved at Corpus as a museum ship.

Horner’s M400

I’ve met world champion 3-Gun competitor Daniel Horner on several occasions and can vouch he is one heck of a nice guy in addition to being an amazing shot. With that being said, New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer this week announced the new DH3 (give you three guesses what “DH” stands for) competition platform in its M400 rifle series.

The M400 DH3 rifle is a Sig Direct Impingement aluminum frame rifle with a Cerakote Elite Titanium finish and DH3 fully-adjustable competition stock. Standard from the factory is a two-stage adjustable Timney Daniel Horner signature trigger and a 1:8-twist 16-inch fluted stainless .223 Wylde-chambered barrel with a three-chamber compensator for recoil mitigation. Other features include a low-profile 3-gun handguard with M-LOK slots, and ambi controls, including bolt catch/release, charging handle, and selector switch.

Horner, considered one of the top multi-gun and 3-gun shooters in the world with over 125 championship titles at the world, national, regional, and state levels to his name, has been wearing Team SIG’s colors for the past couple of years, and it is in this collaboration that the M400 DH3 was developed.

Plus it doesn’t look that bad…

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, June 29, 2022: PBR Rue Bande

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 29, 2022: PBR Rue Bande

U.S. Navy Historical & Heritage Command photo NH79376

Above we see vedetes of French Naval Assault Division (Dinassaut) 8 patrolling the Bassac River in the sector of Can Tho, Cochinchina, August 1952. If you were to lose the traditional French sailor’s “bachi” caps, this image could have come right out of “Apocalypse Now.” 

When the French decided to reassert themselves in formerly Japanese-occupied French Indochina in late 1945, they found it a tough apple to bite. While control of the large cities, ports, and highways was cut and dry, the interior and its waterways were a whole different issue.

VADM Paul Philippe Ortoli, the French Naval commander in the Far East, and Gen. Jacques-Philippe Leclerc, at the time the top banana overall in the region, therefore directed career Fusilier Marin Capt. Francois Gabriel Pierre Jaubert– head of a group of volunteer French Marines and sailors dubbed Compagnie Merlet— to form a riverine force of landing craft and naval infantry to secure the Mekong and Bassac rivers.

Jaubert set up shop at the Saigon Yacht club– which is funny considering the U.S. Navy’s latter Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club nickname for Operation Marketime– and went looking for river craft to arm for his “flottille fluviale.”

For a deep dive into the Brown Water experience in Vietnam, I suggest the NHHC’s 91-page Combat at Close Quarters Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam by Edward J. Marolda and R. Blake Dunnavant, available online.

As noted by Marolda and Dunnavant:

This initial riverine force evolved into the division navales d’assaut (dinassauts, or naval assault divisions). Dinassauts typically included 12 converted U.S. World War II landing craft mechanized (LCM); landing craft utility (LCU); landing craft tank (LCT); landing support ship, large (LSSL); landing craft, vehicle or personnel (LCVP); landing craft, infantry (LCI); and landing ship infantry, large (LSIL). French-built river patrol craft, referred to as STCAN/FOMs, augmented these units.

In addition to infantry small arms, each vessel maintained an array of larger ordnance such as 81mm mortars, 20mm cannon, 40mm cannon, 37mm cannon, 3-inch guns, .50-caliber machineguns, and .30-caliber machine guns. A total of six Dinassauts eventually served in Indochina [French resources say there were actually 10 different Dinassauts]. Their mission was to insert and extract troops and to provide emergency evacuation of isolated outposts along the rivers.

Marine Major Paul J. Kennedy’s superb 73-page paper Dinassaut Operations in Indochina: 1946-1954, detailed these vessels.

LSSL – Landing Ship, Support, Large
Displacement: 227 tons / 383 tons full load
Dimensions: 158 x 24 feet (6 ft draft)
Armament: 1- 3” gun
4 – 40mm gun
4 – 20mm gun
Speed: 14 kts

LSIL- Landing Ship, Infantry, Large
Displacement: 227 tons / 383 tons full load
Dimensions: 158 x 24 feet (6 foot draft)
Armament: 1- 3” gun
1 – 40mm gun
2 – 20mm guns
4- HMG
5- Mortars ( 1-4.2in, 2- 81mm, 2-60mm)
Speed: 14 kts
Note: Both the LSSL and the LSIL were used as command and control ships. These vessels were capable of providing fire support and robust communications. The high bridge allowed the commander unobstructed observation

LCU- Landing Craft, Utility
Displacement: 227 tons
Dimensions: 158 x 24 x 6 feet
Armament: 2 – 20mm gun
Speed: 10 kts

LCM- Landing Craft, Mechanized
Displacement: 36 tons
Dimensions: 50 x 14 (1.3meter draft)
Armament: variously armed.
Speed: 8 kts
Note: The LCM was the workhorse of the riverine fleet. These sturdy landing crafts were converted into armored personnel carriers by welding steel plates along the sides and covering the upper portions with mesh deflection screens. Automatic anti-aircraft artillery, tank main guns, and flamethrowers could be mounted in the “monitor” versions. Mortars were invariably added to provide inshore fire support

LCVP- Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel
Displacement: 13 tons
Dimensions: 40 x 12 feet (1.2 meter draft)
Armament: none
Speed: 8 kts
Note: these crafts were designed primarily for the transportation of troops and a single Jeep. Sometimes lashed together, especially under the cover of darkness, for ease in movement.

Gressier Barges
Displacement: 220 tons
Dimensions: 100 x 24 feet (1.2 meter draft)
Armament: 1- 3” gun
4 – 40mm gun
4 – 20mm gun
Speed: 4-8 kts
Note: These were the recovered barges the BMEO first employed in 1945-46. Although of questionable seaworthiness, they provided journeyman service in the early days of the riverine force. They were generally armed with one 75mm gun, three mortars, and various automatic weapons. Capable of carrying entire rifle company for short distances.

A few images of such modded WWII Yankee vessels are in the NHHC’s collection:

Engins d’assaut, of Dinassaut 8 during patrol and escort mission Bassac River 1952

Bren LCM Dinassaut 8 during patrol and escort mission Bassac River 1952

French Dinassaut 8 LCM. Note the M1 helmets and M2 “Ma Duece” 

French Dinassaut 8 LCM

French Patrol Craft Patrolling Saigon River during Indochina restricted-water operations, 26 April 1952. NH 79380

The French formed the 1,000-man Far East Naval Brigade (Brigade Marine d’ Extreme-Orient, BMEO) in late 1945, a force that morphed into the French Naval Assault Division (Dinassaut) in January 1947 after the recapture of Nam Dinh from the Viet Minh. The Dinassaut group would shine in Operation lea and Ceinture later that Fall, then make a name for themselves in the Gian Khau raid in 1948. After Mao started shipping arms and material to the Viet Minh in late 1949, the French would spend the next five years increasingly on the defensive and off-balance, despite a flood of U.S. Mutual Defense Assistance Program transfers (hence all the landing ships and patrol boats).

It was then that the Dinassaut would clock in as a fire brigade to repulse the attacks on Vinh Yen, Mao Khe, and along the Day River, repulsing a series of offensives by Giap in 1951. By 1952, the force was employed in repulsing the attack on Hoa Binh and the attack on Na San before the death spiral that was Operation Atlante and Operation Castor (Dien Bien Phu), with some French marines hastily trained to make combat parachute drops in the latter days of the conflict.

In the end, two weeks after the French and Vietnamese signed the Geneva accords in July 1954, the French Navy U.S.-built Casa Grande-class dock landing ship Foudre (ex-HMS Oceanway, ex-Greek Okeanos) picked up the remaining small craft of the Dinassaut and sailed for Saigon, leaving them there in the custody of the South Vietnamese, who later got some additional use out of them.

“French-designed St. Can river craft in use by the Vietnamese for fire support, minesweeping, and patrol missions. The craft is armed with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. The length of the craft is 55 feet and operates at approximately 12 knots.” USN 1104731

While the French had upwards of 125,000 troops in Indochina at their peak strength, less than 3,000 of those at any time were the Marines and sailors of the assorted Division d’Infanterie Navale d’Assaut.

These groups developed a serious riverine doctrine during the First Indochina War to a level not seen except for the follow-on U.S. Navy in the conflict a decade later, and it should be pointed out that the latter’s TF117 borrowed heavily from the French experience to shape its own river war.

As for Jaubert, the 43-year-old French marine captain who formed the first riverine units to fight the Viet Minh, he was killed on 29 January 1946 at Than Uyên in Indochina, earning the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, posthumously. In 1948, the French formed Commando Jaubert, an elite “berets verts” marine commando unit, from his old Compagnie Merlet, and it still exists today as a crack counter-terror/frogman group.

Commando Jaubert, in a salute to its origins, maintains an Eastern dragon on its crest.


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Didn’t think I’d see this…

I’ve always thought the select-fire Cristóbal rifle, a neat little gun chambered in .30 Carbine produced in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, was interesting.

Italian merc Elio Capozzi (U.S. HBT camo and AR-10) speaks with a Dominican rebel with a Cristobol Carbine, 1965, image from LIFE Archives

The Armería F. A. San Cristóbal produced about 200,000 of these carbines, a big number considering the Dominican Republic never fielded more than 40,000 troops

Designed by exiled Hungarian firearms engineer Pal Kiraly (who made guns for SIG back before WWII and then the Danuvia 39M and 43M models of lever-delayed blowback submachine guns for the Royal Hungarian Army during the war), the gun wound up being used in a few weird places including Baptista-era Cuba.

San Cristobal carbine on display at US Army Airborne Museum at Fort Benning. The Army captured a few of these back during the U.S. Intervention in the DR in 1965-66 (great 250-page U.S Army paper on that here http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/PowerPack.pdf and click on the image to big up if you want

San Cristobal carbine on display at US Army Airborne Museum at Fort Benning. The Army captured a few of these back during the U.S. Intervention in the DR in 1965-66 (great 250-page U.S Army paper on that here) and click on the image to big up if you want

Well, it seems some of the Dominican Republic-made ammo wound up in Ethiopia at some point, because RTI now has some on hand for a price ($39 per 50-round box) that is sure to make bullet collectors interested.

The boxes certainly are eye-catching, stamped by the San Cristobal Arsenal:

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