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Final WWII Royal Navy destroyer skipper joins the big fleet

John Errol Manners was the youngest son of RADM Sir Errol Manners, KBE, so it was natural that young John at age 17 became a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1932. After all, his two brothers had preceded him in the “family business” and even his sister had served as a WREN.

After pre-war service on the royal yacht Britannia and a variety of torpedo boats in the Mediterranean and the Far East– while working on his cricket game– John was a junior officer on the cruiser HMS Birmingham on China Station when Hitler marched into Poland in 1939.

Quickly reassigned to the I-class destroyer HMS Eglinton (L87), then under construction in England, he rose fast and by February 1942 John was the temporary captain of the F-class destroyer HMS Fame (H78).

He then served as the first lieutenant of the hard-charging Tribal-class tin can HMS Eskimo (F75)— a ship that had famously lost her bow at Narvik and had to be rebuilt. By May 1943, after serving on Eskimo on dangerous convoy escort runs and Malta lifelines as well as supporting the Torch Landings in North Africa, John moved up to become the destroyer’s skipper in time for the Husky Landings in Sicily.

At the end of 1943, John, by then a lieutenant commander, was given the somewhat lateral position of commander of the elderly Great War era W-class destroyer HMS Viceroy (D91).

On that ship, while escorting Convoy FS 1874 off Sunderland, Viceroy counterattacked the German submarine U-1274 after the latter torpedoed the tanker Athelduke, eventually sinking the U-boat in a drawn-out action that left a dozen bottles of good French brandy floating on the surface and the German sub on the bottom. The booze saved, John forwarded it to the Admiralty– who in turn sent it to Churchill– with the regards of the Viceroy’s crew.

After accepting the German surrender of Trondheim, Norway in May 1945, followed up by anticlimactic post-war assignments on troopships and the battleship HMS King George V, LCDR John Manners, DSC, moved to the reserve list, moving on to his cricket game full time.

Manners, the world’s longest-lived first-class cricketer, who coincidentally held commands on three of HMs destroyers during WWII and accounted for a tricky U-boat with panache, passed last week, aged 105.

Recognizing the WWII Rangers, Merchant Mariners

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day M1 Garand BAR 80-G-45716

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day M1 Garand BAR 80-G-45716

Between June 1942 and the end of WWII, the Army formed from volunteers 6 Ranger Infantry Battalions (numbered 1st-6th) and 1 provisional Ranger battalion (29th, from Army National Guardsmen of the 29th ID).

S.1757 just passed the Senate on a unanimous voice vote last week.

“This bill directs the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to arrange for the award of a single gold medal to the U.S. Army Ranger veterans of World War II in recognition of their dedicated wartime service.

Following its award, the gold medal shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution where it shall be available for display and research.”

It now heads to the House.

In related news,

On Friday, March 13, 2020, the President signed into law:

H.R. 5671, the “Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020,” which provides for the award of a Congressional gold medal collectively, to the United States Merchant Mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during the conflict.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Battle Standard bears the number “142” on its field of red, white and blue, representing the academy’s cadets killed in WWII.  

I guess we know how that chess game ended

As a kid, Emperor Ming terrified me, while as an adult I found appreciation for the drawn-out game of chess between Death and nihilistic Danish crusader Antonius Block. In between, I saw the same familiar face show up as one of the best classic Bond villains and in most of the good sci-fi films of the 80s and 90s from the sands of Dune to the dystopian wastelands of Judge Dredd.

Carl Adolf “Max” von Sydow, the consummate professional of European filmmaking who lent his chops to numerous works on this side of the pond, died in France this week, aged 90, leaving a history of more than 100 films behind.

A son of Swedish aristocrats, he did his military service in 1947-48 as a lowly enlisted man in the Intendenturkåren, the Army Quartermaster Corps, in some of the scariest times of the early days of the Cold War, sandwiched between shadowy Nazi remnants using Scandanavia as a way station on their way to Latin America, and an immensely powerful Soviet Red military machine that was making en roads to the kingdom of the three crowns almost daily. Ironically, he would go on to play both a German WWII Army Major (Victory, 1980) and a Russian Navy Admiral (Kursk, 2018), among others.

Fun fact: it was during his time in uniform that Von Sydow picked up his nickname, Max, after attending a traveling flea circus, showing that your stint in the service often carries with you for the rest of your life.

I guess Max has rejoined the big army.

Welcome aboard, Woody

Named for MoH recipient Cpl. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest expeditionary sea base– USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) in Norfolk, Virginia over the weekend.

Importantly, Williams, who earned his decoration while holding onto a 70-pound M2 flamethrower on Iwo Jima, where he used it like a surgeon, is the last MoH recipient from the Pacific War.

Happy National Napping Day

Just in case you didn’t know, the Monday after Daylight Savings Time spring’s back is National Napping Day. In true LSOZI fashion, this is my take.

Marine Sgt. Robert Gwinn, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, takes a nap waiting for a helicopter to transport him back to base after a five-day recon patrol in the hills near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1969.

Official USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant Bob Jordan via Marine Corps History Division

Official USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant Bob Jordan via Marine Corps History Division

Of note, the likely exhausted Gwinn carries an aircrew/pilot’s survival knife and not a traditional K-Bar fighting knife. You can tell by the bolt-shaped pommel and sharpening stone pouch on the sheath.

As Gwinn’s patrol, according to the MCHD, “worked closely with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing pilots and aircrews,” he likely got the knife in trade. Below he is shown filling his canteen in another shot from the Corps Archives. That CAR-15 XM177, tho…

Robert Gwinn Fills His Canteens, 1969 1st Recon Danag Vietnam Marines CAR15 XM177

Hand salute to Woody

One of the most popular weapons used to root out the Japanese on Iwo Jima, 75 years ago this week, was the M2 flamethrower, and with good reason.

Defending the fortress was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 Japanese troops, which had largely evacuated the civilian population on Iwo and has spent months preparing the island’s difficult terrain to best resist the amphibious assault. They dug 16 miles of tunnels, broken up into 1,500 different bunkers, underneath the island. Most would never leave on their own two feet.

Flamethrowers were useful in routing the defenders from the honeycomb of underground tunnels and bunkers on the island, a tactic that evolved into what was known as the “blowtorch and corkscrew,” method.

Marine CPL Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War, carried a 70-pound M2 on Iwo Jima and used it like a surgeon to successfully take on a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, with four riflemen in support.

He is currently 96 years old.

In all, the Medal of Honor was presented to 22 Marines and five Sailors for their actions on Iwo Jima, many of those given posthumously. Adm. Chester Nimitz observed after the hellish battle that, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Red Beach at 75

Men of U.S. Marine Corp’s 5th Division advancing through the black volcanic ash hills of Red Beach No. 1 at Iwo Jima, Japan, 19 February 1945. They are inching toward Suribachi Yama as the smoke of the battle drifts about them.

National Archives, # 127-N-110249. USMC photo by Dreyfuss

Notably, Marines of the 5th Division’s 28th Regiment would raise the iconic national ensign on Suribachi, twice, just four days after the above image was taken.

The Fighting Fifth, formed 21 January 1944 at Camp Pendleton, would see its first combat as a unit on Red Beach and of the three other Marine divisions of V Corps would suffer the highest number of casualties. In all, the “Spearhead” would enumerate 2,482 killed, 19 missing, and 6,218 wounded in action by 26 March, forcing the battered division to sail for Hawaii to re-form.

“The ghastly price of freedom….”

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