Category Archives: man card

Snow panther

75 years ago today with the Army of Occupation in soon-to-be West Germany.

Original Caption 2: “Private Eugene Hamilton of Huntington, Long Island, New York, guards the 761st Tank Battalion tanks.” 

Photographer: Kirschaum 1/22/1946. NARA 111-SC-364381

The famed “Black Panthers” of the 761st earned a Presidental Unit Citation while part of Patton’s Third Army. A segregated unit, its 30 black (of 36) officers included Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson.

In the distance in the above photo are M4 Sherman medium tanks under tarps while PVT Hamilton is passing “Devil Dogs,” what looks to be an early model M24 Chaffee light tank, which may be new as the unit had used M5 Stuarts as their light track during the push across Northern Europe the year before.

They have been called “one of the most effective tank battalions in World War II.” In all, the battalion earned almost 300 Purple Hearts– impressive for a 700-man unit. This is in addition to a Medal of Honor for SSG Ruben Rivers, 11 Silver, and 69 Bronze Stars. All were garnered in their seven-month drive from Normandy to the Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria where they linked up with the Russians pushing from the East.

The 761st was deactivated on 1 June 1946 in Germany. When it was reactivated in 1955, it was fully integrated.

Flash and the locals

Here we see a Daimler Mk. 1 Scout Car, apparently named “Flash”, crewed by Troopers W. Balinnan and A. Gallant of an unidentified Canadian reconnaissance regiment [likely the 4th Reconnaissance Regiment/IV Princess Louise’s Dragoon Guards], after the capture of Bagnacavallo, in Northern Italy’s Ravenna region, 3 January 1945.

The Canucks are speaking with a pair of local partisans, Louisa and Italo Cristofori. Note Louisa’s M1928 Thompson sub gun.

Photographer: Alexander Mackenzie Stirton. Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No.

Five regiments operated the Daimler in Canadian service during WWII besides Princess Louise’s– the Royal Canadian Dragoons, 12th Manitoba Dragoons, 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars and 14th Canadian Hussars– besides numerous smaller units that had a car or two for liaison and recce tasks.

The Daimler typically carries a 2-pounder (40mm) gun as well as a coaxial light machine gun. It could make 50 mph on good roads but only had enough armor to defeat machine gun rounds. It apparently remained in service with some Commonwealth countries as late as 2012.

‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler?’: So Long, Dad’s Army, 75 Years Ago

LDV ( Local Defence Volunteers – the forerunner of the Home Guard) in instructed on how to fire a rifle at the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, Surrey, 22 June 1940.  

On 31 December 1945, with Hitler long gone and Tojo under Allied custody, the final, skeletonized units of the British Home Guard were formally disbanded.

Initially founded as the Local Defence Volunteers, or LDV, on 14 May 1940, the force took on a new urgency and

meaning after Dunkirk when it became seen as very real insurance against a looming German invasion (Unternehmen Seelöwe) that never left port. From motley beginnings, they grew to a peak strength of 1.6 million men and boys.

Their most common tasking was in guarding downed Luftwaffe aircraft and UXO, and rounding up German aircrews that hit the silk over the British Isles.

They did, reportedly, down at least one Dornier with “concentrated rifle fire.”

One of the most popular arms in the Home Guard, at least after 1941, was the M1917 “American Enfield,” with a whopping 500,000 transferred, replacing the sorry state of affairs the lads began with that included everything from old fowling pieces and Napoleanic War relics to homemade pikes and fireplace pokers. 

The December 1945 disbandment was quiet and without much ceremony. The closest that Dad’s Army came to a public farewell was when a massed 7,000-man force paraded through Hyde Park the year prior as the operations were increasingly being drawn down.

Service was unpaid, although men who completed three years with the Home Guard could petition for a Defense Medal in recognition of their, wholly voluntary, service. 

Most were simply mustered out with a handshake, a bit of kit they were able to squirrel away as a memento, and a certificate that read simply:

In the years when our Country was in mortal danger, (name) who served (dates) gave generously of his time and powers to make himself ready for her defence by force of arms and with his life if need be. George R.I.

 

From the Midwest to Malmedy

Just three Midwestern guys smoking and joking while backpacking through Europe, 76 years ago today.

Official caption: En route to front lines, beyond Malmedy, Belgium, American Infantrymen pause to rest. Left to right, Sgt. Lyle Greene, Rochester Minnesota, S/Sgt. Joseph DeMott, Greenwood, Ind., and Pfc. Fred Mozzoni, Chicago, Illinois. 29 December 1944.

Note the extra bandoliers and enthusiasm for grenades. Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-198409 via National Archives

Due to the geographical makeup of the above group, I would wager they are dismounts from the 106th Cavalry Regiment, an Illinois Army National Guard whose armory was in the Windy City, which would explain the tanker boots on DeMott and Mozzoni.

The 106th, formerly the 1st Illinois Volunteer Cav back when they rode horses, was federalized 25 November 1940 and spent most of the war in Texas and Lousiana. Landing in Normandy in late June 1944, they pushed from Northern France, through the Ardennes-Alsace, into the Rhineland, and finished WWII in Austria, being the first unit American troops to enter Salzburg before going on to free King Leopold of Belgium who had been a German prisoner for five years.

They fought dismounted at the Battle of the Bulge, which is when the above image hails from, and patrolled north of Sarrebourg to scout for German forces.

Suffering 700 casualties in their 10-month trek across Europe from the coast of France to the Alps, they returned to the States in October 1945 and today make up part of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team of the Illinois Army National Guard.

Ready for Action, 77 Years Ago Today

Official caption: “PFC Kenneth C. Crowley, USMC, Plymouth, Mass., crouches behind a log on the first day of action on Cape Gloucester. A few minutes after this picture was made, he advanced with his unit and helped knock out a Japanese pillbox. Hdqtrs No. 72489. Marine Corps Photo.”

Note Crowley’s M1 Garand– which the Marines had only been issuing for about a year at this time–, extra bandoliers of clipped 30.06 ammo, and camo helmet cover. NARA 127-GR-85-72489

The 1st Marine Division hit the beaches at Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943, fighting Iwao Matsuda’s Imperial Japanese Army’s 65th Brigade to annihilation over the course of a three-week campaign in thick jungle, suffering 1,300 casualties in the process.

While there are three Crowleys listed from Massachusetts as having died in WWII while serving with the Department of the Navy, none are the above-mentioned Kenneth.

Christmas at Sea

The ship-rigged screw sloop-of-war USS Monongahela under sail, with starboard studding sails spread in very light wind, while serving as U.S. Naval Academy Practice Ship in 1894-99. Courtesy of Edward Page, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89732

Christmas at Sea (by Robert Louis Stevenson)

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
‘All hands to loose top gallant sails,’ I heard the captain call.
‘By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,’ our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… ‘It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,’ he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Bastogne Beer Run

World War II Veteran Vincent J. Speranza, spent 144 days in combat with Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, and, at 95, is one of the estimated 600 or so remaining vets who served at the Battle of the Bulge. A few months ago, he jumped with the Black Knights.

However, in the Bastogne area today, he is far better remembered for a beer run than for his staunchly-defended machine gun nest.

Check out the detailed backstory behind that, below.

Hail, Achilles!

In honor of the 81st anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate, which saw three British cruisers chase down the German pocket battleship KMS Admiral Graf Spee on 13 December 1939, below is the original White Ensign flown by one of those heroic warships, the Leander-class light cruiser HMS Achilles (70) on that day. 

NHHC Catalog #: NH 85979-KN

The Flag was loaned to the Navy Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., by the New Zealand Navy for the 1976 Bicentennial and was photographed there in early 1977.

HMS Achilles (HMNZS from 1941) painting by Frank Norton is part of the National Collection of War Art held by Archives New Zealand Archives reference: AAAC 898 584/ NCWA Q223

A the time of the battle, some 60 percent of her crew was from New Zealand. Transferred outright in September 1941 to New Zealand and recommissioned HMNZS Achilles, she later went on to serve India as INS Delhi until 1978.

The Right Stuff

Brig. Gen. Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, after service in WWII (where he finished the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter), Korea and Vietnam, holder of both the Collier and Mackay trophies, first (confirmed) man to break the sound barrier, and all-around good guy, passed away on Monday, aged 97.

Ironically, his last day on this humble planet was the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, an event that enabled him to rapidly move up from being an aircraft mechanic in the USAAF to apply for flight training, eventually receiving his wings in 1943. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, he is best remembered for his deeds of October 14, 1947, when he became the fastest man in the world, dramatized below.

Forging a Marine, the Garand Way

The saying goes is that “you join the Army, you join the Navy, you join the Air Force, but you become a Marine.”

With that in mind, check out this circa 1961 training film, Making of a Marine, featuring recruits at MCRD Parris Island with M1 Garands, an interesting time capsule of “carrying yesterday’s rifle tomorrow” as the M14 had been officially adopted four years earlier and the M16, ushered in with Vietnam, would be inbound in roughly the same amount of time. 

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