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D-Day through the brush of a GI who was there, 75 years ago today

D-Day, as seen below in eight, often haunting, paintings from U.S. Army combat artist Mitchell Jamieson, who landed in Normandy on Utah Beach with an M1 Garand and a sketchbook on 6 June before making his way to Omaha, where he remained with Navy Beach Battalions for a week living in a foxhole on the beach before eventually moving inland to continue his war.

Dawn of D-Day Off The Coast of France:

Mitchell Jamieson Dawn of D-Day Off The Coast of France 88-193-hm

88-193-HM

“At this moment, the first assault waves and demolition parties are on their way and these men, who are to go in later can only wonder what awaits them and stare at the distant coastline, barely discernable. The boats suspended on davits above their heads with their dark shapes oddly express the taut, waiting threat of this dawn off the Normandy coast.

The far off rumble of explosions could be heard and mysterious processions of small invasion craft crossed the ship’s bow. Each ship with its barrage balloon, gleaming above it in the faint light, seeming to be symbols designed to ward off evil spirits rather than objects of modern war. Now and then flashes appear fitfully on the horizon and, in the sky above, our fighter planes sweep by to support the invasion.”

Morning of D-Day from LST:

Mitchell Jameison Morning of D-Day from LST 88-193-hi

88-193-HI

“Coordination is an important part of the invasion. As the LCTs move in formation to execute a turn to head towards the coast with their assault troops, the transports and LSTs are seen in the distance. Overhead a P-38 Lightning used as a fighter and bomber aircraft during the invasion has just been hit, trailing a stream of white smoke and flame with a cruiser and destroyer to right, bombing objectives ashore.”

Burnt Out LCT on American Beach

Mitchell Jamieson Burnt Out LCT on American Beach 88-193-ie

88-193-IE

“This is typical of some of the gutted wrecks along this most tragic of beaches. It had mobile anti-aircraft vehicles aboard and had been so completely ravaged by flame after being hit that its agonies had left it with a look somehow permanent and fixed in rigidity, as though suffering rigor mortis, in a way like a human corpse. A smashed LCIL is in the surf beyond the pontoon barge and an LCVP, or the remains of it, is in left foreground”

[Of note, the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Corry, nine LCILs, 21 LCTs, USS LST-715, and USS PC-1261 along with the Royal Norwegian Navy destroyer Svenner and RN destroyer HMS Wrestler were all lost off Normandy on 6 June 1944.]

The Dragon – Wrecked M4 Tank

Mitchell Jamieson The Dragon - Wrecked M4 Tank Dday 88-193-hs

88-193-HS

“This burnt-out General Sherman tank was evidently hit by a German “88” [a high-velocity 88mm anti-aircraft artillery gun which was also used as an effective anti-tank weapon] and set afire. It was then partly covered with sand, probably by our bulldozers clearing an exit from the beach. A little further back from the water, a tank ditch extended for a considerable length. Part of the tank’s amphibious air-intake duct, which allowed the tank to be driven through shallow water from ship to shore, was broken off. To the right, a group of African-American troops, amphibious “duck” [DUKW – a type of wheeled land and water vehicle] drivers, gathered around a fire.”

The Sea Wall At the Eastern American Beach (Utah Beach)

Mitchell Jameison The Sea Wall At the Eastern American Beach (Utah Beach) 88-193-IC

88-193-IC

“This was the scene at the easternmost of the two American beaches (Utah Beach) at about 3 p.m. on D-Day. The fighting had moved inland, but all along the seawall, which extends a considerable length of the beach, men dug themselves in – hospital corpsmen, beach battalion members, Sea Bees, and anyone whose work was on the beach itself. The beach first aid station was a short way down from here, and the wounded and dead are in the sand in front of the sea wall. The tide was out at this time, and the wounded could not be evacuated back to the ships because of the difficulty in getting landing craft in and out. An enemy artillery battery, located some distance inland from the beach but still in range, sent shells steadily over the Americans, impeding work. An ammunition truck was hit and burned at the beach’s far end. A lone LCI unloaded her troops and the men filed across the beach and started inland. In this section, beach obstacles were not as formidable as in other areas, and the demolition parties were able to clear the way for landing craft with few losses.”

First Aid Station on the Beach

First Aid Station on the Beach DDay Mitchell Jamieson 88-193-HT

88-193-HT

“These wounded were awaiting evacuation to the ships, but the difficulty was in getting craft to the landing beaches to take them. It was low tide when many landing craft were stranded in the shallows by the swiftly subsiding water. In the meanwhile, the medics did what they could for the wounded and tried to get them out of the line of fire. A trawler was set afire just behind the sea wall and exploded spasmodically with a shower of steel fragments whining overhead. One man died, and a corpsman covered him with a blanket. Wounded were being brought back from the fighting inland, but at this stage of the invasion the wounded did not receive anything like prompt care and evacuation, although the medics and corpsmen did everything in their power.”

[Note: Of the 156,000 Allied personnel who hit the beaches on 6 June, over 10,000 became casualties, half of those killed in action. One unit, A Company of the 116th Regiment, part of the 29th Infantry Division, lost 96 percent of its 197-strong complement to death or wounds on the morning of D-Day in the surf line at Omaha Beach. “Within 20 minutes if striking the beach, A Company ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party bent upon survival and the saving of lives,” noted one contemporary Army report. ]

Burial Ground Above the Beach

Burial Ground Above the Beach Omaha Dday Mitchell Jamieson 88-193-II

88-193-II

In the center of Omaha or Western American beach sector, the ground is fairly flat for perhaps two hundred yards, then rises sharply in a series of hills which command both the beach and the valley exits from it. Here the land levels off and fields, bordered with hedgerows, stretch back inland towards the little town of Colleville-sur-Mer and the Cherbourg road. In June 1944, if you followed the slender white tape through the mined areas up one of these hills, it was not long before you found yourself in a different world.

This was because it really belonged to the dead and because the transition from the active clatter and dust of the beach was so abrupt. This field, high over the Western American beach, became the first U.S. national cemetery on French soil of World War II. Up here the beach sounds were faint and the German prisoners digging graves seemed to be unaware of them. Over the field, there was the sound of pick and shovel and the oppressive, sickening stench of corpses, brought in for burial in truckloads, each wrapped in a mattress cover with his I.D. tag and a little bag of personal belongings to be sent to his next of kin. In the center of the field, the diggers worked in a new section while a guard with a Tommy gun looked on with expressionless features. One soldier who spoke German went around with a long stick for measuring the depth of graves and gave instructions with a great concern for details.

The work had a steady, slow and appalling rhythm. At intervals a corpse was borne on a stretcher by four Germans to a freshly dug grave and lowered without ceremony, then the earth was shoveled in again. Some of the prisoners stopped work for a moment and watched as this was going on. Others mechanically went on with digging.

In this picture a truck has come back from the front, the vehicle brutally and grimly called the “meat wagon,” and prisoners take off the corpses, laying them side by side, row on row while darkness set in over the field.

As a footnote, Maryland-born Jamieson studied at the Abbott School of Art and the Corcoran School of Art and in the 1930s was hired by the Treasury Department’s Art Project to paint murals in public buildings across the country. Volunteering for the Army as an infantryman in 1942, the 27-year old artist was soon reassigned as a combat correspondent. After the war, he continued painting and died in 1976. He has a number of works in the Smithsonian as well as in other museums.

Don’t forget the reason for the holiday weekend

Too often, in our rush to squeeze in summer activities this three day weekend, we forget the reason we are observing it.

Here we see the Essex-class attack carrier USS Bennington (CVA-20) as she passed Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor on 31 May 1958, Memorial Day.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Catalog #: USN 1036055

Note Bennington’s airwing of FJ3 Fury, F2H Banshee, and F9F Cougar fighters, AD-6 Skyraider attack aircraft, and AJ2 Savage bombers. Her gig is racing to drop a wreath over Arizona’s deck. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Catalog #: USN 1036055

Just under the surface to her port is the wreck of the Pennsylvania-class battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Memorial Day, 31 May 1958. Note the outline of Arizona‘s hull and the flow of oil from her fuel tanks.

Bennington‘s crew is in formation on the flight deck, spelling out a tribute to Arizona‘s crewmen who were lost in the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

25 Years On: Operation Amaryllis

During the opening stages of the horror that was the Rwandan genocide, the French moved in with a muscular response that, sadly, had too narrow a focus to make a difference for the local Rwandans.

Opération Amaryllis- 1994, French paras of 3e RPIMa deployed from the CAR to Rwanda for a week on a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) mission, now 25 years in the past. Note the FAMAS rifles

Sparked by the dual April 1994 assassination of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu, in the same aircraft shootdown, the respective Rwandan and Burundi civil wars kicked into overdrive with violence aimed at Tutsi tribe members.

Two days after the shootdown, some 500 French paratroopers based in the nearby Central African Republic, consisting primarily of members of the 3e Régiment de Parachutistes d’Infanterie de Marine (3e RPIMa) but with some members of the 8eRPIMa and artillerists of the 35e RAP (Régiment d’Artillerie Parachutiste), were deployed to Rwanda on orders from Paris to affect a non-combatant evacuation of French and allied nationals.

8e RPIMa Paras, note the FAMAS and its corresponding bayonets. Also, the para on the right has an AKM bayonet on his belt as well in addition to his Vuarnet sunglasses. 

Overwatch by a 3e RPIMa marksman with a distinctive French MAS FR-F2 rifle. Despite the anchor insignia on his beret and the regiment’s “Marine” designation, they are an Army unit, with the nautical references being a throwback to their colonial roots in 1948 Indochina as the 3e BCCP. French colonial troops always sported an anchor as marine “overseas” units. 

A scout from 3e RPIMa with his Peugeot P4, watching a route for a convoy through Kigali in Opération Amaryllis. Note the suppressed HK MP5SD

Lead by Col. Henri Poncet, 3e RPIMa’s commander, the light battalion-sized force managed to evac some 1,417 people– including 445 French– to Bujumbura in Burundi and Bangui in the CAR within a week.

Dubbed Opération Amaryllis, the mission was a success when judged by its immediate tasking, but history, sobered with the fact that an estimated 1 million Tutsi perished in the ensuing genocide as the French beat feet, has left that benchmark somewhat hollow.

Similarly, the UN mission in the country, UNAMIR, which was established to help implement the Arusha Peace Agreement signed by the Rwandese parties the previous August, commanded by Canadian MG Romeo A. Dallaire, dropped its authorised strength from 2,548 military personnel to only 270 in late April 1994 as Belgium and others pulled their troops from the blue berets– showing it was not just the French who pulled stumps at the onset of the crisis in Kigali.

French paras conversing with UN-capped Belgian Paracommando during the Amaryllis evac. Note the latter’s FNC rifles.

During the opening stage of the genocide, 15 UN Blue Helmets, troops from UNAMIR, who had been protecting the Rwandan Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, were captured by members of the Presidental Guard. Five of the 15 were Ghanaians who were set free. The other 10 were Belgian Paracommandos shot and hacked to death by machetes after they surrendered. The Belgians subsequently left the auspices of UNAMIR, and you can note these paras are not in UN livery. 

Another look at an FR F2 rifle. Note the “cat eyes” on the back of the Belgian paracommando‘s helmet. Also, note the early kevlar fragmentation vest.

The French paras did return a few weeks later, as part of a 5,500 military personnel expedition, dubbed Opération Turquoise, near the end of the 100-day genocide, and established the so-called Turquoise Zone meant to stop the mass killings and give a safe haven to refugees. French President François Mitterrand at the time hailed the move and Radio France said that tens of thousands were saved through its efforts– although Turquoise has since joined Amaryllis on the heap of “mistakes were made” operations when judged by after-action historical documents.

For a haunting further look at the international cockup by all involved in 1994 Rwanda, read Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, by LG Roméo Dallaire.

Notably, while United Nations peacekeepers have been deployed for more than seven decades, it was only in 1999– five years after Rwanda and four after the horrible failure in Bosnia that led to the Srebrenica massacre — that the UN Security Council issued resolutions (1265 & 1270) which put the Protection of Civilians (POC) at the heart of UN Peacekeeping. Today, peacekeepers have an actual mandate to protect civilians.

Vale, Herman Wouk

As a kid, I was a naval film junkie and the War and Remembrance, and The Winds of War miniseries along with Humphrey Bogart’s The Caine Mutiny were standard fare. Who can ever forget the ultimate toxic skipper that was LCDR Philip “Old Yellowstain” Queeg?

With that, the bell should be rung at the passing of author, Pulitzer Prize-winner, and WWII destroyerman Herman Wouk who shipped out for that great Libo call in the sky at age 103 last Friday.

Born in 1915, Wouk, a 27-year-old radio dramatist, signed up for the U.S Navy Reserves shortly after Pearl Harbor and was soon bobbing around on the aging WWI-era destroyer-minesweeper (“any ship can be a minesweeper, once”) USS Zane (DMS-14).

USS Zane (DMS-14) Off San Francisco, California, 21 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-57504

USS Caine, err, I mean USS Zane (DMS-14), Off San Francisco, California, 21 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-57504

Wouk had a very active war, participating in eight invasions from New Georgia to Okinawa and later becoming XO of Zane‘s Clemson-class sistership, USS Southard (DD-207/DMS-10). While aboard the latter, he survived numerous kamikaze attacks and Typhoon Ida. Importantly, his fictional USS Caine was a destroyer-minesweeper in WWII whose pivotal “mutiny” scene revolves around a Pacific typhoon.

He said of his time in the Navy during the war, “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.”

Wouk reportedly passed in his sleep.

Be sure to have a nice bowl of strawberries sometime this week in his honor.

Speaking of VE-Day

Here is past Combat Gallery Sunday artist Alex Colville with his haunting painting, Tragic Landscape (oil on canvas 61 x 91 cm, painted in 1945) depicting a fallen German Fallschirmjäger in the tail end of the war, who has already been picked clean of his boots.

Alex Colville, Tragic Landscape German paratrooper 1944

Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. Canadian War Museum 19710261-2126

A Canadian military combat artist who landed in France in August 1944 and worked his way into Germany largely on foot, to Buchenwald and beyond, Colville saw the war up close and personal.

“I remember the paratrooper lying in a [Deventer] field,” recalled Colville in a 1980 interview. “He was about twenty. They [the Germans] would fight right to the very end; they had put up a tremendous fight until they were all killed.”

To reef, or not to reef

The submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII, commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war. However, her Naval service was rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.

Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated as at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown.

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

However, in the past 38 years, she has doubled the amount of time on her hull and decks with a bare minimum of upkeep and is long past her fighting prime. So much so that in the past several years, the push to preserve Clagamore has been primarily oriented to raising money to strip her of contaminants and sink her as a reef to be enjoyed by groupers and divers.

The sub is reportedly now at risk of capsizing due to deterioration of the hull

The cost is estimated to run $2.7 million, for which state lawmakers have been asked to chip in.

*Record scratch* *Freeze frame*

On the other hand, a group of subvets argues it will only take about $300,000 smackers to save, relocate and restore Clagamore— the last of the GUPPY III boats afloat– to a land berth communal with the H.L. HUNLEY museum in North Charleston, SC. To back up their point, they have filed a lawsuit against Patriot’s Point.

Grab the popcorn on this one.

Still coming home

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission earlier this month held a ceremony at Messines Ridge British Cemetery for two unknown soldiers whose remains were recently recovered near the town of Wijtschate, south of Ieper, in the Belgian province of West Flanders.

Despite the best attempts by the Commission, the two lads were only identified as a member of the Royal Irish Rifles (Now part of the Royal Irish Regiment) and an unknown soldier of an unknown regiment, both of which will bear a headstone marked “Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”

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