A failing monarch and a rising eagle, 101 years ago today

Emperor Karl (Charles) I of Austria-Hungary inspecting troops of the newly formed Polish Auxiliary Corps (Polski Korpus Posiłkowy) in Bukovina, 10 December 1917. The officer on horseback is probably Lt. Col. Michał Rola-Żymierski, formerly commander of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legions.

The Corps was formed after Col. Józef Piłsudski, who started the Polish Legion from the pre-war Rifleman’s Association, in the summer of 1917 forbade Polish soldiers in the Austrian Army to swear a loyalty oath to the future (Austrian or German) king of Poland and the Central Powers but instead only to a planned independent Poland. The Germans arrested Piłsudski and locked him up in Magdeburg along with his followers while the men who still wanted to fight the Russians were enrolled in the new unit.

While the old Polish Legion numbered eight infantry and three cavalry regiments organized in three separate brigades, the “Corps” only numbered about 6,000 at its peak. In February 1918, when the Germans and Austrians gave large parts of ethnically Polish land to the new puppet Ukrainian government as a part of the carve-up of the old Russian Empire that was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Corps mutinied and about 1,500 made good as escape for White Russian lines while the remaining 5,000 ended up disarmed and in Austrian internment until that Empire, in turn, collapsed in November 1918.

As for Kaiser Karl, Hapsburg king for less than two years, he passed away in Portugal of pneumonia in 1922, aged 34. At the same time Karl took his last, Rola-Żymierski was serving as a general in the Polish Army while Piłsudski was the defacto head of the Polish state.

Radom is back on top in Poland

Fabryka Broni Łucznik, Radom and the Polish Army go way back, at least as far as pistols go. Besides refurbishing captured/inherited Tsarist Russian M1895 Nagants, German P08 Lugers and various Austro-Hungarian Steyr/Frommer pistols for the force, in 1935 FB started manufacturing first Polish-closeout Nagants then the wholly-Polish Pistolet wz. 35, commonly known as the VIS after an acronym for the inventors’ last names.

Some 50,000 such guns were made for the country’s military prior to World War II — with Polish Eagle markings — and the Germans liked the single-stack 9mm so much they cranked out another 300,000 simplified guns, sans Eagles, for their own use during the war.

I saw this “sweetheart” gripped VIS at a collector show a couple years back. An occupation gun, it was captured in Western Europe by a U.S. soldier in 1944 and carried for the remainder of the war under new management.

Post-WWII, FB made the P-64s Czak and P-83 Wanad, both in 9x18mm, for the Polish Army and police forces but was edged out by the somewhat wonky WIST-94 in recent years.

Well, that has changed as FB just won a contract for 20,000 new PR-15 RAGUN pistols, which will be dubbed VIS 100s in Polish service, to both pay tribute to the old-school VIS-35 and the fact that Poland’s recent centennial celebration of achieving independence following World War I.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Also, FB just released 50 limited edition VIS Eagles, with similar honors

The gun is marked “100 LAT NIEPODLEGŁEJ” which translates roughly to “100 years of independence.” The special VIS also carries the banner of the 2 Dywizja Kawalerii (II RP), the famed Polish 2nd Cavalry Division, down the right-hand side of the slide.

Two horsepower, 100 years on

“Two of the large and better grade of draft horses used for siege artillery held by Captain L. Victor Fromont, commanding the 339 Regiment Field Remount Station. Quartermaster Remount Depot No.7 at Merignac, Bordeaux, France. December 10, 1918.”

Photo via U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group

Although the artillery phased out animal-based prime movers for motor vehicles in the interwar period, the last U.S. horse-mounted cavalry units did not dismount until 1942. The Remount Division still used, bred and cared for tens of thousands of horses– to include Triple Crown winner Sir Barton who was “enlisted” in the 1930s at age 17.

The horse did return in a number of limited roles throughout WWII– for instance in the case of Army troops in New Guinea, the 112th Cavalry Regiment in New Caledonia in 1942, and constabulary units in Germany in 1945– a counterpoint to those who think the horseshoe was replaced by the pneumatic tire back in the Great War. In additon, the Remount Service put a division’s worth of Coast Guardsmen on beach patrol duty.

In all, the “mechanized” U.S. Army used a whopping 140,000 horses and mules in WWII.

According to the Army:

“The animals actually procured included the 60,000 purchased in the Zone of Interior, the 6,000 purchased or obtained by reverse lend-lease in Australia, and the many thousands which were captured, requisitioned, or received from the Allied military forces in the China-Burma-India, Mediterranean, and European theaters. In China, animals were procured for the Chinese military forces by a Sino-American Horse Purchasing Bureau whose U.S. veterinary officers were sent into far-distant Tibet. Additional animals were purchased by the U.S. Army in the Hawaiian Islands, New Caledonia, and Fiji Islands.”

Paratroopers on borrowed local horses in France, 1944

The lid did not close fully until the Atomic era when hundreds of thousands of jeeps, trucks, tractors, and vehicles of all sizes and shapes were in storage and a reason for hanging on to the noble horse for operations was non-existent. The vaunted U.S Remount Program was finally disbanded in 1948 after more than two centuries of service, its assets liquidated or turned over to the Department of Agriculture.

The Army does, nonetheless, today maintain a number of horse-mounted ceremonial units and a few Special Forces ODAs, of course, put horses to good use in Afghanistan in for more than a decade.

Col. Donald Bolduc, third from left, commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, with U.S. Special Forces personnel, patrols a village on Jan. 16, 2011, in Khas Uruzgan District, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan (Photo: U.S. Army)

And just like that, the Burkes are 30

A port bow view of the guided-missile destroyer USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG-51) underway in rough seas. Camera Operator: PH3 JAMES COLLINS Date Shot: 31 Mar 1993 DNSC9303708

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), the paterfamilias of the largest class of warships built in the West since Korea and longest production run for any post-WWII U.S. Navy surface combatant, was laid down at Bath Iron Works in Maine on this day in 1988, set for a 1991 commission.

Elsewhere that day, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack at age 52, Nelson Mandela was transferred to Capetown’s Victor Vester Prison, Mikhail Gorbachev was Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and Ronald Reagan was busy packing for the ranch in California as George H. W. Bush was slated to move into the Oval Office.

The top of the Top 100 that week, as related by Casey Kasem, was Chicago’s power ballad Look Away.

To borrow a line from the song, the Navy may have been looking (hard) but they haven’t “Found someone else” and Burke remains on active duty. In 2011, she completed a hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) modernization to extend her service life to 40~ years, well into the 2030s. By that time, as many as 104 Burke-class destroyers could be on the Navy List.

And you think it’s cold where you are, 44 years ago today edition

NHHC Photo: 428-GX-USN 1163442 by PH2R. Beaudet

A UH-1D Iroquois helicopter Antarctic Air Development Squadron Six, VXE-6, outside an ice cave in the edge of the Mount Erebus Ice Tongue. December 7, 1974

Incidentally, the above makes me think of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The Puckered Penguins of VXE-6 supported Antarctic Ops from 1955-99.

This day

“The Japanese Sneak Attack on Pearl Harbor”. Charcoal and chalk by Commander Griffith Bailey Coale, USNR, Official U.S. Navy Combat Artist, 1944.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Center, Washington, D.C. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (click to big up)

From NHHC:

This artwork shows the destruction wrought on ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet attacked in their berths by scores of enemy torpedo planes, horizontal and dive bombers on December 7, 1941.

At the extreme left is the stern of the cruiser Helena, while the battleship Nevada steams past and three geysers, caused by near bomb misses, surround her. In the immediate foreground is the capsizing minelayer Oglala.

The battleship to the rear of the Oglala is the California, which has already settled. At the right, the hull of the capzized Oklahoma can be seen in front of the Maryland; the West Virginia in front of the Tennessee; and the Arizona settling astern of the Vestal …, seen at the extreme right.

The artist put this whole scene together for the first time in the early summer of 1944, from 1010 Dock, in Pearl Harbor, where he was ordered for this duty. Coale worked under the guidance of Admiral William R. Furlong, Commandant of the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, who stepped from his flagship, the Oglala, as she capsized.” (quoted from the original Combat Art description).

The more things change…

These two images, of U.S. infantrymen some 100 years apart, show just how much the basic job of a foot soldier endures throughout time. You still feel exposed no matter what the cover is. You are still there for the Joe next to you. Your uncomfortable equipment is still made by the lowest bidder. You still just want to get through the day.

A soldier with 30th DIV sniping from a trench in Belgium on July 9, 1918. Note his Springfield M1903 rather than the more commonly-issued M1917 Enfield. Signal Corps image 18708

10th Mountain troops working the trench complex at Fort Drum, New York, Nov. 2018. For those who have experienced upstate NY this time of year, the pain is real.

yokosukasasebojapan.wordpress.com/

The U.S. Navy and the Western Pacific

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