Category Archives: US Army

Shilling’s photo ‘Hawk

What a great original 80-year-old color photo of the American Volunteer Group “Flying Tigers” posing on one very special aircraft.

A group of AVG pilots poses for the camera. Erik Shilling is on the nose, William Bartling is next, with Frank Adkins is in the cockpit. Charles Bond and Robert Little are standing on the ground, Joe Rosbert and George Paxton are on the wing. The photograph was taken at Kunming on 11 APR 1942 by LIFE photographer Clare B. Luce. Luce was elected to Congress later that year and the photo would appear in the magazine in July, after the Tigers had been disbanded.

The “Blue Lipped” KMT Chinese-marked Tigers’ P-40 Warhawk above is Eriksen Emerson Shilling’s unarmed photo recon aircraft. It had been stripped of its guns and extra weight, then fitted with a 20-inch Fairchild camera in the baggage compartment behind the cockpit. Among other vital missions, Shilling had documented over 90 Japanese military aircraft on airfields around Bangkok at a time when Thailand was considered neutral.

While it took stones to fly against the much more numerous Japanese air forces in 1942 China-Burma, to do it sans armament was even more so.

The Flying Tiger pilots posing are the blonde Shilling (age 26 at the time), ace Bill Barthing, ace and future USAF MGen. Charles Bond, ace Frank Adkins, double ace Robert Laing “Bob” Little, ace Joe Rosbert, and the downright “elderly” paymaster George “Pappy” Paxton.

The same group was shown with Shilling (in a brown jacket and the same blue shirt) along with a uniformed Bartling, Paxton, Rosbert, and Adkins in a photo listed as being taken the next month but could have been the same day.

A group of “Hell’s Angels” pose for the camera in front of Charles Older’s #68 P-40 at Yunnan-yi on 28 MAY 1942. They are (sitting) Robert Smith, Ken Jernstedt, Bob Prescot, Link Laughlin, and Bill Reed. Standing are Erik Shilling and Arvid Olsen.

The photos were taken shortly before the AVG became the new, by-the-book, 23rd Fighter Group, which may account for Shilling wearing a blue shirt and no uniform.

Rather than join the 23rd FG, Shilling– who had served in the USAAF from 1938-41 and helped pioneer aerial recon at the time– opted instead to remain a pseudo-civilian and, along with several other Tigers, signed up with the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), the Pan Am-KMT operation moving supplies from India to Free China over the Himalayas.

Of note, just five of Chennault’s pilots (and 19 ground crewmen) went to the 23rd FS in July 1942 while at least 16 pilots, Shilling included, elected to go CNAC instead. The Regular Army life did not appeal to men who had already had it and went for something more exotic. 

Other volunteers went back to the states to see what they could find there, with the nation now officially in the war. These included a hard-drinking Marine first lieutenant by the name of Gregory Boyington who had resigned his regular commission in August 1941 as he was leaving for China with an unrealized understanding “that I would be reinstated without loss of precedence when I returned to United States Service.”

As for Shilling, he would go on to make no less than 350 dangerous trips over “The Hump” in WWII and go on to fly post-war for Chennault’s (paid for by the CIA) Civil Air Transport (CAT) line, delivering agents and supplies to places off the record throughout the Korean War and into Dien Bien Phu. CAT would, of course, go on to become Air America.

Meanwhile, Shilling would return to the U.S. in the 1960s and turn to a quieter, less-spooky life, passing in his mid-80s. 

More on Boyington later.

Recon by Colt

55 Years Ago Today.

Original Caption:

On 8 September 1967, PFC Michael J. Mendoza (Piedmont, CA) uses his M16 rifle to recon by fire. Earlier, the company received sniper [fire] from the valley below. His company; Company “A”, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade [Division], was moving to a mountain top to secure a landing zone. This was mission was a part of Operation “Cook” conducted in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam. Mendoza was also known for his helmet graffiti “Goin-home!! California”.

By Sp5 Robert C. Lafoon, Department of the Army Special Photo Office. National Archives Identifier:100310264

Note PFC Mendoza’s early model (XM16E1) M16 with its heavily-scarred plastic furniture, at least three casings in air, and brass being pushed into the chamber by the BCG. These guns had most of the externals seen on the later M16A1s (3-prong FH, triangular handguards, forward assist, and A1 sights) but did not have a chrome-lined barrel/chamber. These were fielded to airmobile units such as the 101st around mid-1965 before the A1 was standardized. Note there is no brass deflector and the “fence” around the mag release is very shallow, with users of these rifles often complaining they would accidentally eject a mag when going to close the dust cover.

While there are a dozen Mendozas listed from PFCs to a light colonel among the more than 58,000 named on The Wall, our particular PFC is not among them, so at least he seems to have made it back home to California. 

As noted on the Vietnam Veteran’s page for the 2nd/502nd: 

The 2nd Battalion of the 502nd Infantry Regiment (often referred to as the ‘O Deuce’) was part of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. The 1st Brigade of the 101st was one of the first major units in Vietnam – arriving by boat in July 1965. The O Deuce was on that boat as part of the 1st Brigade, and remained in Vietnam until 1972. The historical average “time in combat” for WWII Infantry Soldiers was 40 days, and in Vietnam they give 240 days as the norm or average. In the O Deuce the norm was much closer to 330 days – in a 365 day tour. We lived “in the bush”, and saw the “rear area” for only a couple of days at a time, often a month or more apart.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 07, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

U.S. Army Photo 111-CCV-113-CC43650. National Archives Identifier: 100310246

Above we see the Benewah-class self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36), some 55 years ago this month on 24 September 1967, moored in South Vietnam’s My Tho River. A collection of floating piers and docks sister the big, armored converted LST, to her small craft brood of the Mobile Riverine Force. Alongside her are at least 10 LCM-6 landing craft converted to Armored Troop Carriers (aka “Tango” boats), four CCB (aka “Charlie” boats) communication/control monitors, and a helicopter-pad equipped Aid Boat. Note the quad 40mm Bofors fore and aft on Colleton along with two 3″/50s flanking her helicopter pad as well as her location near shore.

Colleton had to be one of the most formidable vessels to even be labeled a “barracks ship” and these days would pull down the designation of an Expeditionary Sea Base, although she was much better armed.

About those APBs…

The Old Navy’s primary receiving ship/barracks ships, based at naval stations and shipyards to house blue jackets between homes, were usually just hulked warships, their topsides covered over by dormitories. 

U.S. Navy frigate, USS Constitution, photographed while serving as a receiving/barracks ship in Boston, circa 1905. Detroit Photographic Company, circa 1891-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

USS Chicago (IX-5) at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, October 20, 1926. Chicago was originally commissioned in 1889 as a protected cruiser was classified as CA-14 in 1920 and became a barracks ship at Pearl Harbor after decommissioning in 1923. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-1010827

With the U.S. military swelling to a multi-million man force in WWII– much of it to be sent far overseas into often remote areas such as isolated Pacific islands with no infrastructure– the Navy quickly realized that barracks ships would be needed. Soon, starting in FY 1942, a class of 40 non-self-propelled Barracks Ships (APL hull numbers) were begun. Dubbed the APL-2 and APL-17 types, they were simple 2,000-ton, 260-foot, covered barges with a two-story barracks built on top.

APL-17, under tow to her next location, 8 October 1944. Able to accommodate 500 or so troops or sailors, these barracks barges had three generators for lights, cooling, and amenities but no engines and a 71-man crew made up primarily of Ship’s Servicemen– Barber (SSMB), Laundryman (SSML), Cobbler (SSMC), and Tailor (SSMT)– rates along with a few engineering rates and GMs. For defense, as they were to be forward deployed, was a battery of 20mm Oerlikons on the roof and some M1919 mounts to cover the water. 

Midway into the numbering sequence for the APLs, starting with APL-35 and running through APL-40, it was decided to create a run of larger, self-propelled barracks ships. These would become the Benewah-class authorized as APL-35 (soon morphed to APB-35) and 15 sisters soon following.

To avoid reinventing the wheel, the Benewahs were all 4,000-ton, 328-foot, LST-542-class landing ship tanks, or AKS-16 class general stores issue ships (which used the same hull and machinery). They were able to steam at 12 knots and had a decent self-defense capability including two twins and four single 40mm/60 Bofors as well as a mix of smaller cannon and machine gun mounts. Gone was the landing and beaching gear and added was a double-deck troop accommodation for 28 officers and 275 enlisted as well as galley and recreation facilities for those embarked as well as the 137-man crew.

For a time still termed APLs then “LST (Modified)” they eventually became APBs by the time they joined the Navy List.

Ten of the class were quickly converted to APBs post-commissioning while still at their builders including USS Wythe (APB-41) (ex-LST-575), Yavapai (APB-42)(ex LST-676), Yolo (APB-43)(ex LST-677), Presque Isle (APB-44)(ex LST-678), Accomac (APB-49)(ex LST-710), Cameron (APB-50)(ex LST-928), Blackford (APB-45)(ex AKS-16), Dorchester (APB-46)(ex AKS-17), Kingman (APB-47)(ex AKS-18), and Vanderburgh (APB-48)(ex AKS-19). These ships made it to the fleet first and some were sent into the thick of the action by 1944.

USS Yavapai (APB-42) at anchor off the coast of Okinawa in the summer of 1945. Note the magnificent view of a DUKW six-wheel amphibian in the foreground. Photo from the NARA US Army Air Force photo collection.

This left Benewah, Colleton, Marlboro (APB-38), Mercer (APB-39), and Nueces (APB-40) to be built as barracks ships from the keel up rather than converted.

USS Mercer (APB-39) and USS Marlboro (APB-38) under construction at Boston Navy Yard, 3 January 1945. Note the two-level superstructure running nearly the entire length of the ship with the pilot house onthe  top forward. The destroyer at the top is USS Babbitt (AG-102) and across the channel, there is probably a British battleship. NARA Identifier NA 38329801

However, this meant that the five-pack of fresh-built Benewahs, Colleton included, were only completed post-VJ-Day.

Speaking of which, Colleton, authorized, on 17 December 1943 as Barracks Ship (non-self-propelled) APL-36 and later reclassified to APB-36 on 8 August 1944, was laid down, on 9 June 1945 at Boston Naval Shipyard and “completed” in September 1945. As she wasn’t needed, she was never commissioned and was placed immediately in reserve at Boston, her bunks never slept in, an ensign never flown from her. She would slumber for 22 years, just in case.

She earned her name from the county and river in South Carolina, near the vital entrance to Port Royal.

Preliminary chart of Port Royal entrance. Beaufort, Chechessee, and Colleton Rivers, South Carolina From a trigonometrical survey under the direction of A. D. Bache, Superintendent of the survey of the coast of the United States. Triangulation by C. O. Boutelle, Assist. Hydrography by the parties under the command of Lieuts. Commdg. J. N. Maffit and C. M. Fauntleroy, U.S.N, Assists. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division: G3912.P62 1862. U5 CW 389.2

Good Morning, Rat Sung Special Zone!

On 1 April 1966, Naval Forces, Vietnam, was established to control the Navy’s units in the Army’s II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. This eventually included the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117). The latter unit formed the naval component of the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force.

Patterned after the French naval assault divisions, or Dinassauts, which performed well in the Indochina War from 1946 to 1954, the MRF consisted of an Army element– 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (augmented by the 3rd Brigade after mid-1968), and a Navy element– River Assault Squadrons 9 and 11 along with River Support Squadron 7– under COMUSMACV’s overall direction.

The “Old Reliables” of the 9th Infantry Division were reactivated on 1 February 1966 and arrived in Vietnam on 16 December 1966 from Fort Riley, Kansas, and would spend most of their time “in-country” with wet boots, motored around the Vietnamese river complex via the Navy.

Original Caption: 26 September 1967, My Tho River, Republic of Vietnam: “Soldiers from the 9th Infantry Division’s ‘Riverines’ assault a heavily wooded area. The Soldiers were brought to the beach head by an Armored Troop Carrier landing craft.” Note the CAR-15 (XM-177) in the hands of the platoon leader, the Marlboros and bug juice in the bands of their M1 helmets, and the general lack of shirts/blouses. U.S. Army photo 111-CCV-113-CC43676, NARA 100310250

As detailed in By Sea, Air, and Land » Chapter 3: The Years of Combat, 1965-1968 from The Navy Department Library:

Each 400-man assault squadron, divided further into two river assault divisions, marshaled a powerful fleet of five monitors. Each monitor was protected with armor and equipped with .50 caliber, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter gun mounts, two 40- millimeter grenade launchers, and an 81-millimeter mortar. Another two or three similarly armed and armored craft served as command and control boats. A total of 26 Armored Troop Carriers that mounted .50-caliber machine guns, rapid-fire grenade launchers, and 20-millimeter cannons transported the Army troops. Also installed on the former amphibious landing craft were helicopter landing platforms. A number of craft mounted flame throwers [dubbed “Zippo” boats] or water cannons [dubbed “Douche” boats] to destroy enemy bunkers. A modified armored troop carrier functioned as a refueler for the river force. Beginning in September 1967, to augment the firepower of these converted landing crafts, each squadron was provided with 8 to 16 newly designed Assault Support Patrol Boats for minesweeping and escort duties.

By the end of 1967, each river assault squadron contained 26 ATCs, 16 ASPBs, five Monitors, two CCBs, one Aid Boat, and one refueller (a modified LCM).

An Assault Support Patrol Boat (ASPB) of Task Force 117 moves slowly up the outboard side of an Armored Troop Carrier (ATC). The ATC is sweeping for Vietcong command detonated mines during a Mobile Riverine Force search and destroy mission. The boats are assigned to River Assault Flotilla One, 16 December 1967. USN 1132289

Army infantrymen of the Second Brigade, Ninth Infantry Division return to a U.S. Navy Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) of River Assault Flotilla One, Task Force 117, after conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in the Rung Sat Special Zone in October 1967. USN 1132292

A group of riverine craft consisting of ASPB and Armored ATCS makes a firing run on a suspected enemy position. The craft is part of Commander Task Force 117. K-74760

However, the MRF needed mother ships, and the first, USS Whitfield County (LST 1169), clocked in to support River Assault Squadron 9 at Vung Tau in January 1967. The utility of this put the Navy on a course that would bring its APBs out of mothballs and sent them  to Southeast Asia

Converted to provide a mobile operating base for river patrol squadrons and serve as a command ship in support of Amy infantry battalions, Colleton was finally commissioned on 28 January 1967, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Colleton’s ultimate conversion included upgraded habitation amenities, a large amidship helicopter pad for supporting aircraft (primarily Army and Navy UH-1s), expanded 18-bed sick bay facilities, and some quickly installed electronics and commo gear. Her WWII-era guns, well-greased but never fired, were put back in service as threats from Viet Cong sappers and NVA PT boats were a real thing.

From the Mobile Riverine Force Association:

After a complete paint job (green Army olive drab), several hundred square feet of bar armor was fabricated to cover the bridge and operations area. This had to be constructed entirely by ship’s company from angle iron and ½-inch steel bars. The month of May [1967] also saw the installation of 8-50 caliber and 12 7.62mm machine guns to the armament of the ship. She also acquired three ammo pontoons to be used as a mooring place for the small boats of the River Assault Squadrons and as assembling points for troops about to be embarked in the Armored Troop Carriers (Tango’s).

She was soon joined by Benewah who had been laid up at Green Cove Springs, Florida since 1956, and the ship was recommissioned, on 26 February 1967 and sent to Vietnam.

USS Benewah (APB-35). In the Soi Rap River, the BENEWAH lies at anchor with her assault ships nesting alongside, 24 October 1967. K-41574

USS Colleton (APB-36) with a full dozen Armored Troop Carrier LCM-6 conversions– including one outfitted as an Aid Boat– alongside while in the Mekong Delta. L45-55.02.01

Mekong Delta, Republic of Vietnam. Soldiers of the joint U.S. Army-Navy mobile riverine force get a “hosing down” to remove Mekong Delta mud as they return to their floating home base, a self-propelled barracks ship, after completing a mission during Operation Coronado Nine. Photographed by PH1 L.R. Robinson, December 1967. 428-GX-K42765

“Mother Ship: the USS Colleton’s bow, quad 40mm gun mount, loaded and fully manned during the ship’s movements up and down the Delta. It was also partially manned from 6 PM to 6AM every night at anchor. Three different crews taking shifts. We slept in the gun mount when we were able. Most nights we were usually awake and firing, off and on, in support of Army infantry. Sleep was not an option then.”– Dennis Noward

As detailed in Riverine Warfare, The U.S. Navy’s Operations on Inland Waters:

By late May 1967, the five ships that formed the initial Mobile Riverine Base had arrived in the Delta. These include two self-propelled barracks ships, the USS Benewah (APB 35) and USS Colleton (APB 30); a landing craft repair ship, USS Askari (ARL 30); the barracks craft APL 26; and a logistics support LST assigned on a 2-month rotational basis by Commander Seventh Fleet.

These five ships provided repair and logistic support, including messing, berthing, and working spaces for the 1,900 embarked troops of the 2d Brigade, and the 1,600 Navy men then assigned to TF-117. Benewah served as the Mobile Riverine Force flagship. By mid-June, 68 boats had joined the force and others arrived every few days (the full complement of 180 river assault craft was reached in 1968).

Thus, beginning June 1967, it was possible to conduct six to eight search and destroy missions per month, each lasting 2 or 3 days. (A number were joint United States-South Vietnamese.) On each of eight separate operations during the year, more than 100 Viet Cong were killed.

Sisters Mercer (also laid up in Green Cove Springs) and Nueces (laid up in Orange, Texas since 1955) would soon follow by 1968.

USS NUECES (APB-40) commissioning ceremony at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 3 May 1968. Note the 40mm Bofors mount. USN 1132322

PBR alongside USS Colleton APB-36, near Dong Tam, 1969

USS Colleton -APB-36 and her cluster of river boats. Mekong Delta-1969. Note, that the photo has been reversed.

PBRs alongside USS Colleton APB-36 Near Dong Tam 1969

The four barracks ships, augmented by a rotating force of LSTs (Caroline County, Kemper County, Vernon County, Washtenaw County, Windham County, Sedgwick County, and the aforementioned Whitfield County), and supported by the landing craft repair ships USS Askari (ARL-30) and Satyr (ARL 23) and a couple of yard tugs, would form the hard nucleus that the MRF would operate from throughout 1967 through 1969.

Notably, Colleton was the only one of her sisters outfitted as a pseudo-hospital ship. Arriving in the theater just days before the Tet Offensive, she managed 890 combat casualties from 29 January 1968 to May 1968 alone. Of these patients, 134 were admitted to the ship’s ward, and 411 evac’ed after stabilization.

Seaman Arthur Melling, the coxswain of Monitor 92-1, is loaded onto a “dust off” medevac Huey from an Aid Boat LCM after he was wounded. Helicopters could evacuate wounded MRF Sailors and Soldiers to medical care in a matter of minutes. Melling was evacuated to USS Colleton (APB 36) which had an operating room and medical facilities. Putting flight decks onto Armored Troop Carriers to turn them into Aid Boats was another example of adapting equipment to the demands of the battlefield. Official U.S. Navy photo (XFV-2530-B-6-68)

Then came the policy of Vietnamization, which aimed to reduce American involvement in the country by transferring all military assets and responsibilities to South Vietnam. With that, the MRF soon changed hands, and, with “the locals” taking over its tasks, the MRF faded away and its support ships went home.

The riverine craft of commander Task Force 117 is moored alongside the self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36) pending the ceremony in which the craft will be turned over to the Republic of Vietnam at Dong Tam. The photo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74723

Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) with the current U.S. crewmen and the Vietnamese future crewmen aboard await the word to lower the U.S. Flag and raise The Republic of Vietnam Flag during ceremonies in which the Riverine task force 117 craft are to be turned over to the RVN at Dong Tam.The photoo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74731

OG-107 clad Navy personnel of Commander, Task Force 117, stand in formation during ceremonies in which their riverine craft was turned over to the Republic of Vietnam Forces, in July 1969. Taken at Dong Tam, Republic of Vietnam. Note the insignia patch of River Assault Division 111, on the shoulder of the nearest man with the motto “Come Hell or Low Water” and the rocker “Mekong Marauders.” K-74726

The four barracks ships earned no less than a combined total of 27 campaign stars for Vietnam War service in addition to seven Combat Action Ribbons, a Presidential Unit Citation, seven Navy Unit Commendations, and one Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation. To this were added a host of RVN awards and decorations including multiple Gallantry Crosses and Civil Action Medals. Not bad for floating hotels.

Colleton transited back home, arriving at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decommissioning in December 1969. Back in mothballs at Bremerton for a few years, she was struck from the NVR in 1973 when it became apparent that she would not have to return to Vietnam, and was sold for $172.226.62, to American Ship Dismantler’s Inc. of Portland, Oregon, for scrapping.

As for the 9th ID, they incurred 2,624 causalities in Vietnam and were brought home and inactivated in 1970 with the Vietnamization of the MRF, then reactivated in 1972 then served as a state-side equipment testing unit at Ft. Lewis, Washington until 1991. There are 10 Soldiers of the 9th ID or its component units in Vietnam still listed as missing in action, some vanished during MRF operations.
 
For more on the arrival and first year of the 9th ID in Vietnam, see George L. MacGarrigle’s Combat Operations: Taking the Offensive, October 1966–October 1967, The United States Army in Vietnam (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1998), 14–15, 117. 

Epilogue

The U.S. Navy has only had a single USS Colleton on its list and as far as I can tell there is little in way of relics around from her life.

As noted by the MRF Assoc, “She was a good ship and will always be remembered by all who served and lived on her in Vietnam, Navy and Army alike.”

Of her sisters, they would prove to be extremely hard to kill indeed. The pair of APBs that arrived in Vietnam to support the MRF in 1968, Nueces and Mercer, once they left Southeast Asia, they only made it as far as Japan and are still there. Nueces is still in Yokosuka while Mercer is in Sasebo, providing berthing and messing assistance to U.S. Forces Japan. Of course, they long ago landed their guns and were officially decommissioned in 1970, redesignated APLs as they are no longer self-propelled.

APL-39, ex-Mercer, moored at SRF Det., Sasebo Japan, 13 December 2012. (By Bob Gregory, Dep Requirements & Special Programs Officer, COMPACFLT N43, via Navsource) and APL-40, ex-Nueces, moored pier side, at Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, Japan, date unknown. US Navy photo.

Specs:

Displacement 2,189 t., 4,080 t.(fl)
Length 328 feet
Beam 50 feet
Draft 11′ 2″
Fuel Capacity: Diesel 2,975 Bbls
Propulsion: 
two General Motors 12-567A Diesel engines
double Falk Main Reduction Gears
five Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C. Ship’s Service Generators
two propellers, 1,800shp
twin rudders
Speed: 12 kts.
Complement: 
Officers 12
Enlisted 129
Berthing Capacity:
Officers 26
Enlisted 275
Armament (1945)
four single 40mm AA gun mounts
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
twenty .50 and .30 cal machine guns


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75 Years Ago: End of the Trail

28 August 1947. Retirement ceremony of the last four U.S. Army Indian Scouts at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Photo from the LIFE Magazine Archives – Allan Grant Photographer

The four Apache Indian Scouts are from left to right: Sinew Riley, William Major, Kessay, and Antonio Ivan. The Officer is Col. William L. Roberts.

In his book, Fort Huachuca: Story of a Frontier Post, historian Cornelius Smith recorded Sgt. Sinew Riley’s moving words at the conclusion of his service:

We were recruited from the warriors of many famous nations. We are the last of the Army’s Indian scouts. In a few years, we shall be gone to join our comrades in the great hunting grounds beyond the sunset, for our need here is no more. There we shall always remain very proud of our Indian people and of the United States Army, for we were truly the first Americans and you in the Army are now our warriors. To you who will keep the Army’s campfires bright, we extend our hands, and to you, we will our fighting hearts.

On 1 August 1866, Congress authorized the enlistment of up to 1,000 American Indians to serve as scouts for the U.S. Army, although, as noted by the service, “Native Americans had been utilized as Scouts as far back as white men had been settling the American continent.”

It was not uncommon for Native Americans to be enlisted as Indian Scouts for very short terms, usually three or six months at a time.

Sharp Nose enlisted more than 20 times, serving between 1876 and 1890. Here, one of his six-month tours, in 1890 with the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, is enrolled. (National Archives)

With the retirement of the four above-mentioned scouts at Fort Huachuca, the Army’s Indian Scout program came to a close after 81 years.

For more information on the Scouts, check out the National Archives.

Old School M110s Back on the Menu

The Pentagon announced this week that Charles Reed Knight Jr’s Florida-based Knight’s Armament Company has picked up an eight-figure contract modification for assorted M110s.

The U.S. Army Contracting Command in Newark, New Jersey, awarded KAC a three-year $14,998,849 modification to an existing contract to supply the service with the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System and various M110 configurations.

The M110 SASS is a semi-automatic sniper rifle/designated marksman rifle chambered in 7.62 NATO and was developed by KAC from the company’s SR-25 platform. It is typically seen with a huge 14-inch over-barrel suppressor.

However, as HK has been delivering Georgia-completed M110A1s to the Army on a steady schedule since 2020, ostensibly to replace the KAC-made M110 SASS, this week’s contract announcement is curious.

The HK G28 variant used as the Army’s Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System, or M110A1. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

More in my column at Guns.com.

Zephyr 8 Comes Down After 64 Days in the Stratosphere

The idea that you could launch an unmanned aircraft and it could stay aloft for two months, unrefueled, as it roams between North and South America on a 30,000-mile sortie, is bananas.

But it just happened.

The Airbus Zephyr series is an ultra-lightweight (165 pounds) long-winged (82-foot wingspan, roughly the same as a PBY Catalina) that can still lift an OPAZ camera system capable of taking 18cm high-resolution images from 65,000 feet in the air and delivering them BLOS in real-time– covering a 20 km x 30 km swath at a time.

Now that’s persistent ISR.

HAPS Zephyr in preparation before take-off

Airbus feels the aircraft has serious uses for maritime security, convoy protection, land/coastal border protection, and SIGINT, and they aren’t wrong. 

One of the prototypes, Zephyr 8, just burned in after spending a record 64 days in the air. This smashed the aircraft’s 2018 test flight of 25 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes endurance, without refueling.

From APNT/Space CFT at Redstone Arsenal:

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space (APNT/Space) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) has concluded a 64-day stratospheric flight demonstration utilizing Airbus’s Zephyr 8 ultra-long endurance solar-powered unmanned air system (UAS).

Launched from Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) on June 15, the Zephyr 8 UAS ascended to over 60,000 feet into the stratosphere before executing its flight plan over the southern portion of the United States, into the Gulf of Mexico, and over South America. Once returning to airspace over YPG, the team conducted multiple assessments.

On August 18 around 2100 hours PDT, the prototype aircraft’s flight campaign ended when the Zephyr 8 UAS encountered events that led to its unexpected termination over YPG. These events are under investigation. No injuries or risks to personnel or other aircraft resulted from this incident. Further information will be released following the investigation.

“Our team is working hard to gather and analyze important data following the unexpected termination of this flight,” said Michael Monteleone, Director of the APNT/Space CFT. “Despite this event, the Army and its partners have gleaned invaluable data and increased knowledge on the endurance, efficiency, and station-keeping abilities of high-altitude UAS platforms. That knowledge will allow us to continue to advance requirements for reliable, modernized stratospheric capabilities to our Soldiers.”

This flight marked a number of firsts for Zephyr 8, including its departure from U.S. airspace, flight over water, flight in international airspace, data collection and direct downlink while outside of U.S. airspace, the longest continuous duration (7 days) utilizing satellite communications, and the demonstration of resilient satellite command and control from three different locations – Huntsville, AL; Yuma, AZ; and Farnborough, UK.

During this flight, Zephyr 8 more than doubled the previous UAS endurance record, just under 26 days, and flew in excess of 30,000 nautical miles – more than one lap around the Earth. The 1,500 flight hours beat all known unmanned aircraft endurance records, marking significant capability and informing future mission requirements.

This experimentation successfully demonstrated Zephyr’s energy storage capacity, flight endurance, station-keeping, and agile positioning abilities. Given the amount of data that was generated during the 64-day flight and the time required to analyze it, as well as the need to investigate the events that led to the termination, further flight demonstrations have been postponed until 2023.

This 64-day test flight was performed in conjunction with government and industry partners who support experimentation that continues to inform Army requirements.

One thing I wonder about is the type’s susceptibility to operating in a non-permissive environment. What is the radar signature of a “pseudo satellite” cruising around at low speed and extreme altitude and how easy would it be to shoot it down? 

Even older Warsaw Pact high-performance interceptors such as the MiG-25 Foxbat have an operational ceiling above 80,000 feet and today’s better fighters such as the Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E have a published operational ceiling of 59,000 feet but I’d bet could make it to 65K if they had to in a wartime scenario.

The RP-25 Smerch-A/Foxfire radar had an impressive )for the time) power rating of 600kw that reportedly could cook a rabbit alive at 2 meters. But could it pick up a Zephyr?

Vietnam-era SAMs such as the SA-2 can reach 60,000 feet but would be largely unguided at that height although that didn’t stop them from getting lucky if used in quantity– CIA pilot Gary Powers found that out in his U-2 over Russia in 1960 despite that aircraft’s high altitude (rumored to be about 68,000 feet when shot down by a volley of 17 SA-2s).

Could an S-400 SAM system, if cued by an AWACS, make a hit on Zephyr? We may find out…

80 Years Ago: The Fighting Cocks Clock In

Formed in January 1941 as the USAAF’s first 67th Pursuit (Interceptor) Squadron, the “Fighting Cocks” trained on laughably obsolete Seversky P-35s at Harding Army Airfield in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Six weeks after Pearl Harbor, as part of the newly forming Fifth Air Force, the ‘Cocks left their P-35s at home and caught the Army transport steamer, Thomas A. Barry, out of Brooklyn for the unheard-of destination of New Caledonia.

A trailing freighter carried 47 new disassembled and crated Bell Aircobras, almost all P-400 Caribou variants– named for the “advertised” top speed of 400 mph when a better name would have been the P350ish. The joke soon became that a P-400 was a “P-40 with a Zero on its tail.” The P-400 had initially been ordered by the British RAF but quickly requisitioned by Uncle Sam. They carried a less powerful 20mm cannon in the nose rather than the Cobra’s more typical 37mm cannon augmenting two synchronized .50 cals in the nose and two .30 cals in the wings. Also on the same boat were just two crated Model 15B/P-39F Aircobras.

While the 67th got a feel for their new aircraft and changed from a “Pursuit” to a “Fighter” squadron, Operation Watchtower kicked off in Guadalcanal, and the Marines and Navy recast a captured Japanese airstrip there as Henderson Field, home to the embattled Cactus Air Force, a force of Wildcats and Dauntless dive bombers.

On 22 August 1942, 80 years ago today, five P-39/P-400s of the 67th FS winged into Henderson after a three-day overwater hop, stopping first at Efate, then Espiritu Santo along the way to refuel while a B-17 filled with liferafts flew alongside the short-legged fighters in case they had to ditch. The pilots were welcomed to sniper fire as they slept in tents that night. After just four days, only three of the original P-400s remained.

Nine more P-400s of the 67th arrived on the 27th.

US Army Air Force 67th Fighter Squadron P-400s probably on arrival at Guadalcanal on 27 August 1942. “Shark-nosed Army fighters such as theses have combined with Navy and Marine planes to take a heavy toll of Japanese aircraft in the continuing Battle of the Solomon Islands.” The plane in front, BW-167 #6, was wrecked in a take-off accident on 8 September 1942, with 2LT Vernon Head piloting (survived with minor injuries). One of the other two shark-mouth planes was shot down on 30 August 1942, with pilot 2LT Keith Wythes lost. USMC photo 50467. NARA 127-GR-4-50467

The squadron would call Guadalcanal home for the next seven hellish months, much of it flying daily missions from the new Fighter One strip, AKA “The Cow Field.”

67th Fighter Squadron at Henderson Field in 1942, likely in The Cow Field of Fighter One. Note the ZZ tail flash

While the P-400s’ performance against incoming Japanese aircraft was poor– the aircraft lacked an oxygen system, limiting the fighters to operations at lower altitudes– it proved its worth in making “bloody X” attacks on transports of the “Tokoyo Express” steaming down “The Slot” and in performing low-altitude close air support for the Marines of the 1st MARDIV. In this role, they dubbed themselves “The Jagstafel.”

It was in the September fight for Bloody Ridge that three members of the 67th– Captain J.A. Thompson and his two wingmen, Lt. B.E. Davis and Lt. Bryan Brown– would, as Marine Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandergrift would say– become the “Saviors of Guadalcanal.”

As noted by the old Cactus Air Force Page:

Blue flames licked from the burbling exhaust stacks of the three fighters as they waited at the end of the runway called Fighter One. Over-heating was a real problem for the Allison V-1710 V-12s and when the engine temp began to rise so did the anxiety of the pilots. Adding to their discomfort, the pilots were already sweating from the musty heat and humidity of the nearby jungle. With first light, the three Bell Airacobras were flashing down the runway – heading into the rising sun to attack minions of the Empire of the Rising Sun. The fighters would be participating in one of the bloodiest engagements of the battle for Bloody Ridge. It was 14 September 1942.

Not long before their takeoff roll, Capt. John A. Thompson had reported to the “Pagoda” for his briefing – Col. Merrit Edson’s Raider Battalion was barely hanging on to an elevated perimeter ridge that defended the southern approach to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The Marines had survived two nights of vicious attacks by Maj. Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi’s brigade and bombardment from sea and air. The leathernecks had only about 300 men left in their ranks, all of them prepared to fight to the end or blend into the forest to continue with a guerrilla war.

Captain Thompson and his two wingmen, Lt. B.E. Davis and Lt. Bryan Brown, had barely cleared the palms at the end of the runway, banking to the right when they had the bloody battleground in sight. At the briefing, a Marine officer, caked with the grime and dried blood of two days of almost continuous combat, had given the captain the relative positions of the American and Japanese troops on a crude map. Edson’s 800+ men were fighting approximately the 1700 to 2000 Japanese troops that remained from a force of 2500 that actually made it to the ridge. The exhausted Japanese troops were preparing for another attack – trying to break through the defensive line and capture the airfield. Without warning, the three P-400s swept in at tree top level! Thompson knew that to achieve maximum effect with his cannons and machine guns, the three would have to get as low to the ground as possible. The shark-toothed pursuits roared over the Japanese, guns blazing. Each plane was firing one 20mm cannon, two .50-caliber, and four .30-caliber Browning machine guns. Even with their different trajectories, considering the altitude and attitude at which the P-400s were flying, the withering fire decimated the regrouping enemy troops. Like a scythe, the Airacobras mowed down the Japanese soldiers with a wide swath all along the ridge.

The first pass was a surprise to Maj. Gen. Kawaguchi’s men, but they had time to prepare for the next. As Thompson, Davis, and Brown swept around for another attack, every pistol, rifle, and machine gun available was pointed skyward. Again, the P-400s came in just a few feet above their victims, spraying the entire southern ridge with a barrage of bullets – this time, however, they were met with an equally intensive amount of small arms fire. Some of the Japanese soldiers, puddled into limp pieces of flesh, ended as mounds of congealed tissue on the ground. Others flew through the air as the larger bores tore at their bodies and mixed their blood with the volcanic mud of the island they would never leave.

In their dying efforts, however, they too drew blood from the enemy – this time in the form of glycol bleeding from the radiator of Brown’s craft. The young lieutenant had no other choice but to break off the attack and try to make it back to Henderson – these three P-400s were the only ones the Cactus Air Force had left.

Dank air mixed with the pungent smell of cordite left a coarse, bitter taste in Thompson’s and Davis’s nostrils and mouths as the remaining two aircraft swung around for another pass. Both planes had absorbed ground fire with no noticeable effect but the nerves of the pilots must have been jumping with electricity. As knots formed in their stomachs they continued their merry-go-round attack, but there was nothing merry about it. On the third run, the two remaining Airacobras came in so low it seemed they could have cut down the enemy with their propeller blades alone. The staccato of the machine gun fire counterpointed by the hesitating booms of the cannons had the same horrible effect as before. Some bodies exploded with the impact while others withered to the ground from the rifle-caliber machine guns. With no other option, the hapless Japanese returned fire, again with effect. This time Thompson had a stream of vapor trailing his aircraft as he too used the momentum of his attack to make it back to Fighter One.

Being in the only airworthy P-400 left on this Godforsaken island and the only plane that would withstand the entire fusillade of the enemy’s wrath during another strafing run, one would forgive Lt. Davis if he gave up the attack and returned to base. But Davis knew that the Japanese had to he stopped. If not, Henderson would he lost and if Henderson was lost, Guadalcanal would be lost and if Guadalcanal was lost, the supply lines from the United States to Australia would he lost – he went in for another lonely pass.

The lieutenant continued his attacks and with each pass, there was less and less returning small arms fire. Finally, he exhausted the ammunition, and in his wake and the wake of the previous P-400s before him lay the now lifeless bodies of reportedly over 600 of Kawaguchi’s finest. In this final action, the back of the Japanese advance was broken and the demoralized enemy retreated. For all intent and purposes, Guadalcanal was lost to the Empire and in essence, the Japanese had marched up to the line in the sand and were stopped dead in their tracks – they would never advance further east of Guadalcanal again. They would continue the struggle for this southern Solomon island, landing hundreds of men and tons of materials, the campaign was realistically lost and inexperienced American fighting men who only months before had been working in Montgomery Wards or pumping gas had won America’s first amphibious operation against a seasoned enemy, hitherto thought to have been invincible.

The 67th FS is still around, flying F-15Cs out of Kadena, Japan.

A few years back, they carried a camo scheme and the old “ZZ” and 5th AF tail flashes to salute their Guadalcanal P-400s.

You have to admit, the F-15C is, with the possible exception of the F-14, one of the sexiest air superiority fighters of the past 40 years.

They have a memorial installed at the National Museum of the Pacific War (the Nimitz museum) in Texas and came away from Guadalcanal with a Presidential Unit Citation (Navy).  

Remembering Dieppe at 80

The colossal foul-up that was Operation Jubilee or the Dieppe Raid, using a brigade-sized mix of mostly Canadian troops augmented by a few U.S. Army Rangers and Allied Commandos to capture and hold a French Channel port in a dress rehearsal for taking Europe back, was 80 years ago today. It turned out to be the Canadian Army’s costliest day of WWII with 907 men killed, another 2,500 wounded, and 1,976 captured.

Two Canadians received the Victoria Cross for their bravery.

German officer and soldiers examining a Churchill tank stuck on the beach in front of the boardwalk after the battle, its left track broken. Wounded men lying on the ground are about to be evacuated. Dieppe, August 19th, 1942. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada C-017293.

The poor showing led to putting off the liberation of France for two years as the Allies concentrated on opening the second front in the Axis’s “soft underbelly” in the Med. 

This year’s commemoration includes a few of the remaining Veterans, contingents from the Canadian Army, and HMCS Kingston.

‘The Boss’ Just Doing What She Does

I’ve talked about Staff Sgt. Amanda Elsenboss a few times in the past. A Woodbury, Connecticut native and marksman/instructor on the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit’s Service Rifle Team, she picked up the 2019 NRA National Long Range Championships at Camp Atterbury, Indiana with a win in the Mustin match and a shoot-off score of 100-9x. She also won the Leech Cup with a 200-15X and 100-6X shoot-off score as well as the Viale (with a 198-11x) and Critchfield Memorial Match (200-12x) then shot a 200-12X in the Kerr Match– going on to win the Overall Long Range Champion title with a 1,641 – 95x.

At the 56th Interservice Rifle Championships in 2017, she won the High Service Woman Title, the Interservice 1000-yard Individual Match (Open Division), and the Interservice Individual Long-Range Match. She was also an integral member of two match-winning teams during this 56th annual competition between the military services. Tabbed into the President’s Hundred, she joined the Army in 2010 and has been competing with the AMU since at least 2014 after a prep career where she made the Connecticut All-State Rifle Team out of Nonnewaug High School.

And this month, “The Boss” made history at age 33, becoming the first woman to win the President’s Match an event that’s been in existence since 1894, firing a very impressive 391-12X (ST-99-1, P-RF-99-4X, P-SF-99-4X, Final-94-3X).

More over at The Gun Bulletin.

Army Gets in the Game against Goering

While Pacific-based U.S. Army Air Forces fighter pilots, running P-39s and P-40s, had already taken a few bites out of the assorted Japanese air forces at Pearl Harbor, the CBI, and over Guadalcanal, it wasn’t until eight months after the U.S. entered the war against the Germans that the Army could claim its first “kill” against the Luftwaffe.

Eighty years ago, the USAAF achieved its first Army Air Forces aerial victory in the European theater on 14 August 1942.

Via U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa:

In August, the 27th Fighter Squadron began ferrying P-38 Lightnings to England as part of Operation BOLERO. While en route the squadron stopped in Iceland to refuel, rest, and prepare. During a mock dogfight between two 27 FS P-38s and a P-40 assigned to Iceland Base Command, an RAF Nomad tracked a German FW- 200 C-4 Condor, as the Luftwaffe aircrew flew around the perimeter of Iceland and near Reykjavik collecting information on weather and allied shipping.

P-40 pilot, 2d Lieutenant Joseph D.R. Shaffer, 33 FS assigned to Iceland, performing air defense of the island, first attacked the Condor, damaging one of the bomber’s engines. Soon after 2d Lieutenant Elza E. Shahan, 27 FS P-38 pilot, followed Lt Shaffer’s attack, hitting the bomb bay, causing the aircraft to explode and crash into the sea. For their actions that day, Lts Shaffer and Shahan earned the Silver Star and achieved the first active-duty shoot down of German aircraft in World War II.

Summer 1942: U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning fighters (identifiable are s/n: 41-7540, 41-7594, 41-7598) of the 1st Fighter Group during a refueling stop in Iceland on their way to England. 41-7540 was flown by Lt. Elza E. Shahan (27th Fighter Squadron) on 14 August 1942. He shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor over the Atlantic, together with 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Shaffer of the 33rd FS Squadron, 8th FG, (flying a Curtiss P-40C). This was the first USAAF victory over a German aircraft in World War II. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 050524-F-1234P-002)

As noted by Lockheed:

Within six months, as the P-38 showed its versatility in North Africa, a lone hysterical German pilot surrendered to soldiers at an Allied camp near Tunisia, pointing up to the sky and repeating one phrase—“der Gableschwanz Teufel”—over and over. Once the phrase was translated, U.S. officials realized the focus of the pilot’s madness. The P-38 had been given a new nickname: the “fork-tailed devil.”

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