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An Unwanted Sword, 76 Years Ago Today

17 September 1945: Surrender of Borneo at Bandjermasin. The Japanese major general, a career officer in his full uniform with some 2,500 of the Emperor’s troops under his command, attempted to hand his family sword to the senior Allied officer on the scene, a malarial temporary lieutenant colonel in field dress with rolled-up sleeves and a bush hat, who, after suffering the loss of one out of four men in his battalion in the preceding campaign to reach that moment, ordered the general via an interpreter to place his sword on the ground before of the Australians.

Note the Digger with his Enfield revolver at the ready. Photo by Corp. Robert Eric Donaldson, AWM 118033

“Major General Michio Uno, Imperial Japanese Army, Commanding the Japanese 37th Army Forces in the area, lays his sword at the feet of NX349 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Ewan Murray Robson, CBE, DSO, Commanding Officer, 2/31 Infantry Battalion during the Japanese surrender ceremony on the local sports ground. Also identified is Warrant Officer Class 2 Arthur Pappadopoulos, Interpreter with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), GHQ beside Robson, and on the extreme left, behind Lt Col Robson is Warrant Officer Class 1 George Hawkins.”

Part of the 25th Brigade, 7th Division, the 2/31st was formed just as the 70th Battalion (Australia) after Dunkirk in England from assorted Australian non-infantry types and trained to be infantry to defend the British Isles against a looming invasion by Hitler. Renamed the 2/31st, following the end of the Battle of Britain, the unit was sent to North Africa then served in the Syrian campaign before being rushed back to defend Australia in early 1942 after Japan entered the war.

This photograph from State Library Victoria is of the 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion walking in high cane along the Banks of the Brown River, circa 1943. When the Japanese arrived in Papua, their goal was to make their way across the Kokoda Track and form a base from which to attack the mainland of Australia. The Kokoda campaign is remembered as one of the most difficult operations in Australian military history – a campaign that cost the lives of many soldiers.

After being decimated through two years of fighting in the fierce jungle during the New Guinea campaigns, the reconstituted battalion landed at Green Beach at Balikpapan along with the rest of the 7th Division on 2 July 1945. Overcoming fierce Japanese opposition as they pushed inland from the beach, they were again in the Green Hell of jungle fighting, suffering the highest casualties of any Allied unit in the Borneo campaign, with nearly a quarter of the battalion killed or injured. On the way, they liberated a huge camp at Kandangan, which held Dutch women and children that had been interned since 1942, as well as a second large camp that held some 2,000 Indian POWs captured in Burma.

Soldiers of the Australian 2/31st Battalion passing through the town of Bandjermasin in Borneo as they took responsibility for the area from the Japanese. “They are being given an enthusiastic welcome by local civilians.” AWM photo 118018

The 2/31st Battalion received 22 battle honors for its service during the war, and its members earned a VC, three DSOs, four MCs, one DCM, and a score of MMs. It was disbanded in March 1946, and the unit, assembled from “odds and ends” had never since uncased its flag.

Its commander, Lt. Col. Murray Robson had been mustered out even before then, discharged in November 1945, his war service at an end. A solicitor by trade and a member of the NSW parliament, he had joined the Australian militia at age 33 as a reserve lieutenant three weeks after Hitler crossed into Poland in 1939 and, serving with the 2/31st since June 1940, earned the DSO in New Guinea after being wounded in Syria and mentioned thrice in dispatches.

No word on whatever became of Major General Uno’s katana.

Second Hand MP38

Maori troops line up on the quayside at Alexandria in Egypt following their evacuation from Crete, 3 June 1941.

Photograph taken by Lieutenant L.B. Davis. IWM E 3373

The men above, of the New Zealand Army 28th (Māori) Battalion, were among the 18,000 Australian, New Zealand, and British troops transported by the Royal Navy across the Med between 28 May and 1 June 1941, following a week of bitter fighting against German airborne forces. As witnessed by the German MP38 carried by the fourth man in line, the Maori gave the Fallschirmjäger a tough time.

The 28th is recognized today as the most decorated Kiwi battalion during WWII, receiving battle honors: Olympus Pass, Crete, El Alamein, Tebega Gap, Takrouna, North Africa 1942–43, Orsogna, Cassino 1, The Senio, Italy 1943–45, Mount Olympus, Greece 1941, Maleme, Canea, 42nd Street, Withdrawal to Sphakia, Middle East 1941–44, Tobruk 1941, Sidi Azeiz, Zemla, Alem Hamza, Mersa Matruh, Minqar Qaim, Defence of Alamein Line, El Mreir, Alam el Halfa, Nofilia, Medinine, El Hamma, Enfidaville, Djebibina, The Sangro, Castel Frentano, Monastery Hill, Advance to Florence, San Michele, Paula Line, Celle, Saint Angelo in Salute, Santerno Crossing, Bologna and Idice Bridgehead, as a unit.

Its men would receive no less than 7 DSOs, 1 OBE, 21 MCs, 13 DCMs, and 55 MMs in addition to a U.S. Silver Star and at least one was recommended, but ultimately did not receive, a VC.

55 Years Ago: We have the technology

Such a captivating image of Atomic age wonder, hard to imagine it was real, and that it hails from September 15, 1966.

NASA research pilot William Harvey “Bill” Dana takes a moment to watch NASA’s converted NB-52B Stratofortress mothership (52-0008, Balls Eight) cruise overhead after a research flight in the Northrop HL-10 heavy lifting body. “HL” stands for horizontal landing, and “10” refers to the tenth design studied by engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. On the left, John Reeves can be seen at the cockpit of the lifting body. NASA Photo.

More on the HL-10 here, more on Balls Eight here, and, since you came this far, a word about test pilot Major Steven Austin.

Buffalo Soldiers Remembered at West Point

Lost in the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 remembrances over the weekend was a small ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy where Gen. (Ret.) Vincent K. Brooks presided over the dedication of a monument honoring the service of the “Buffalo Soldiers” who served for 40 years at West Point.

Founded immediately after the Civil War to take advantage of a pool of over 140,000 surviving members of the segregated wartime USCT, which had been disbanded on October 1865, the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiments, along with the four regiments black infantry (the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st– later amalgamated in 1869 to the 24th and 25th Infantry due to service-wide budget cuts) carried the legacy of some 175 regiments of freedmen who fought in the last two years of the War Between the States.

Fighting in virtually every campaign of the Plains Wars in between policing the border regions and patrolling Yosemite National Park in the days before the service’s armed rangers, the Buffalo Soldiers also went overseas to mix it up with the Spaniards in 1898 and serve in the Philippines against assorted insurgents. Notably, five members of the 10th Cavalry earned the Medal of Honor during the Spanish–American War.

The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, fighting dismounted in the Battle of Las Guasimas, Cuba, 24 June 1898. Via the LOC LC-DIG-PGA-01889

One of the most unsung duties, at least until this week, that these professional horse soldiers performed, was in providing for the standing United States Military Academy Detachment of Cavalry.

Made up of 100 long-service black non-commissioned officers and senior enlisted who were considered among the best in the Army, the detachment formed 23 March 1907 to teach future officers at West Point riding instruction, mounted drill, and cavalry tactics, a mission they would perform by the numbers until 1947. The cadets who earned their spurs in such drill included George S. Patton Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar N. Bradley.

U.S. Army Photo by John Pellino/USMA PAO

Gifted to the academy by the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, the 10-foot-tall bronze trooper mounted on horseback characterizes the level of horsemanship expertise that was provided to future Army officers. Nationally renowned sculptor Eddie Dixon was commissioned for the piece that bears a likeness to SSG (Ret.) Sanders H. Matthews Sr., a Buffalo Soldier stationed at West Point. Sanders, who founded the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, Inc., worked tirelessly to pay tribute to their memory, and plans to erect the monument have been underway since 2017.

“These Soldiers embodied the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country, and ideals of the Army Ethic,” said the U.S. Military Academy 60th Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams. “This monument will ensure that the legacy of Buffalo Soldiers is enduringly revered, honored, and celebrated while serving as an inspiration for the next generations of cadets.”

U.S. Army Photo by John Pellino/USMA PAO

Happy 80th Navy EOD

The first mine disposal class of 24 officers and enlisted Sailors graduated on 22 August 1941, marking the start of the Navy EOD community, the wearers of the “crab.” Today, more than 2,000 Navy EOD technicians serve in the U.S. Navy, carrying forward the legacy of 80 years of distinguished service.

Check out this primer about RADM Draper Laurence Kauffman, the WWII father of Navy EOD and America’s first frogman, as well as hearing from EOD vets from Vietnam and the Gulf War.

In semi-related news, the U.S. Navy announced this week that it has finished the ship-based Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program onboard the littoral combat ship USS Manchester (LCS 14) off of the California coast. 

Toughing it out Behind the Iron Curtain

Lithuanian resistance fighters (left to right) Klemensas Širvys-Sakalas, Juozas Lukša-Skirmantas, and Benediktas Trumpys-Rytis stand in the forest circa 1949. Note their civilian attire, augmented by American pineapple grenades and pistol belts, likely Lend-Lease supplied to Soviet troops, as well as a Czech Sa vz. 23/CZ 25 sub-gun of more recent vintage. (Photo courtesy of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania)

If the above image strikes an interest, check out the (free) newly published “Survival in the Russian Occupied Zone Command and Organization in Resistance Underground Operations,” by Col. Kevin D. Stringer, PhD, U.S. Army Reserve. 

Codename Snake Eyes and Jungle Green

Royal Marines exercise “Codename Snake Eyes” circa 1960 documentary– in Color!— by the Central Office of Information for the Admiralty. A great way to spend a half-hour. 

The exercise involves a combined-arms amphibious attack on a fictitious Mediterranean island nation that looks suspiciously like Cyprus, complete with an airfield and radar station.

It is jolly good stuff, complete with pipe smoking, beards, Denison smocks, a wet predawn paradrop from an RAF Boxcar by SBS frogmen, Fleet Air Arm Vampires launched from an RN carrier conducting rocket attacks to soften things up, dory-landed (and Enfield/Sterling-armed!) Royal Marines from 45 Commando leaping ashore from LCVPs to complete a rock face free climb, then reinforced by Wessex helicopter-delivered 40 Commando (“choppers may be useful but they have no natural dignity”), finished off by LCM-landed 42 Commando (who finally have some FN FALs/L1A1s) on the third wave after NGFS from gun-armed cruisers.

And that’s just in the first 10 minutes!

Enjoy.

For a less varnished but no less fascinating look at Royal Marines at the sharp end, check out “Jungle Green,” a 1964 BBC documentary following an isolated 25-man long-range patrol/listening post of 40 Commando and their two Iban trackers some 50 miles deep in the bush in Borneo during the very Vietnam-ish Konfrontasi, the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.

Manning the Oerlikon

Official caption: “Five steward’s mates stand at their battle stations, as a gun crew aboard a Coast Guard-manned frigate in the southwest Pacific.”

Note the gunner is missing his left shoe but doesn’t seem that affected by it, as there is a pile of 20mm brass in the gun tub. NARA 26-G-3797 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/513214

“On call to general quarters, these Coast Guardsmen man a 20mm AA gun. They are, left to right, James L. Wesley, standing with a clip of shells; L. S. Haywood, firing; William Watson, reporting to bridge by phone from his gun captain’s post; William Morton, loading a full clip, assisted by Odis Lane, facing camera across gun barrel.”

Besides their own vessels, the Coast Guard manned a myriad of ships on the Navy List to include LSTs, LCIs, and transports. Notably, of the 96 Tacoma-class patrol frigates built during the war, the USCG ran 75 (the balance had gone as Lend-Lease to Russia and Britain). Of those 75, most were detailed to convoy duty in the Atlantic but 18 that were built on the West Coast were dispatched in a squadron to the Pacific where they gave a good account of themselves in ASW patrols, landing Rangers and Marines on isolated atolls, and providing NGFS for invasion forces throughout the Philippine littoral.

Action at Sea!

This image has it all, and you can almost smell the saltwater and burnt propellant. Note the assorted seagoing tattoos, Dixie cup hats, total lack of eye and ear pro, and the assistant gunner with his burning stogie.

USCG Photo 26-G-508. National Archives Identifier: 205572937

Original caption: On the target are these alert, fighting Coast Guardsmen aboard a Coast Guard ‘Sub-Buster’ somewhere on the Atlantic. Discharged shells fall to the deck from their spitting gun.

From the looks of that bronze one-piece deckhouse and the water-cooled .50 cal, the vessel in question is one of the early 83 footer “Jeep of the Deep” patrol boats used by the Coast Guard in WWII.

The Guards Connection

Check out this great image, circa 1901, by Mr. James Russell & Sons of Baker Street, London, fame. The seated gentleman is His Grace, Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 6th Duke of Richmond, 6th Duke of Lennox, and 1st Duke of Gordon, KG, PC. He is surrounded by three of his grandsons who recently returned to England from campaigning abroad: LT Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Lord Settrington of the Irish Guards; LT Hon. Esme Gordon-Lennox of the Scots Guards; and LT Hon. Bernard Charles Gordon-Lennox of the Grenadier Guards. All of them are wearing the South African Medal, having just fought the Boer, while Lord Settrington is also wearing a D.S.O.

Bernard would later perish near Ypres in 1914, as a major, and is buried there. Lady Bernard Gordon-Lennox remained a widow until her death in June 1944, during World War II, aged 67, when a V-1 flying bomb hit the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks and killed her.

Lord Settrington, who would become the Earl of March in 1903 and was a colonel of the Sussex Yeomanry (see= Gallipoli) in the Great War, would have a son that would die in August 1919 of war wounds, seconded from the Irish Guards to the Royal Fusiliers fighting the Bolsheviks in Northern Russia, age 20, and is buried in Archangel.

Brigadier-General Lord Esmé Gordon-Lennox would be the longest living of the above quartet, as he would survive the Great War and enjoy a ripe old age, passing in 1949.

As for Charles, the paterfamilias had previously done his time in the colors with the Horse Guards in the 1840s-50s and was an ADC to Wellington.

The Gordon-Lennox family has continued to serve, often lengthy military careers, in the Guards. 

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