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Remember, today is not about saving (up to) 40 percent on select items

It’s a small plot of land that’s never left unguarded. The Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are a small and exclusive group. They stand their post 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather. Hear the Sentinel’s Creed and you’ll know why. DOD video edited by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jared Bunn

The Literal Watch on the Rhine

“THE WATCH ON THE RHINE” Occupation Duty, 1919.

Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-45142 via the National Archives

Official caption: Sentry posed upon a rock at the river’s edge resting on his rifle and looking off across the water. In the background arm stacked arms of Infantry Organization and few men warming themselves about an open fire. Chief figure is Pvt. Chas. H. Purviance of 310th Radio Field Signal Battalion. Men in the background are members of 301st Engineers, Co. D. Moselle Valley, Germany, 18 January 1919.

Note the stacked M1917 Enfields complete with rarely-seen canvas breech covers. Pvt. Purviance is well kitted out with leather gloves, a wool greatcoat, M1917 Brodie helmet, and a 10-pouch belt that is apparently well-stuffed with .30-06 stripper clips at the ready.

For reference, the 301st was part of the 76th (Liberty Bell) Division, which arrived to France late in the Great War and was largely broken up and used as replacement troops for depleted units.

The Thunderbolt on the Move, 75 years ago

Just four days before VE-Day, a unit of late-model M4E8 (Easy Eight) Sherman medium tanks of the U.S. 11th Armored “Thunderbolt” Division are seen crossing the Muhl River near Neufelden, Austria, 4 May 1945. Note the exhausted tankers and open carton on C-rats on the front slope of the lead tank.

U.S. Signal Corps Photo now in the National Archives

Late to get into the war, the 11th AD landed in France on 16 December 1944 and saw their first combat just two weeks later defending the highway to Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Remaining in almost constant contact with the enemy for the next four months during which they suffered nearly 2,900 battle casualties, the Thunderbolt pierced the Siegfried Line, swept through the Rhine, and raced across Bavaria to Austria where it was thought the hardest cases of the SS would fight a last stand.

Instead, on 5 May 1945, the day after this picture was taken, units of the 11th liberated the Gusen concentration camp then swiftly moved on to the main camp at Mauthausen on the 6th. They had covered the 900 km from Bastogne through Germany and Austria in 126 days.

An M8 Greyhound armored car of the 11th Division entering the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria 6 May 1945.

As noted by the U.S. Holocaust Museum, “The division’s arrival prevented the SS guards from murdering thousands of concentration camp prisoners by dynamiting the underground tunnels and factories where the inmates had been forced to work.”

The 11th would remain in the area, where they helped process more than 19,000 prisoners, and would be disbanded 31 August 1945. The Thunderbolt was never reformed.

For more on the Army’s liberation on The Camps, see the CMH’s dedicated page full of resources on the matter. 

The Liberation of Major Nazi Camps 1944-1945 – Map is provided courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Welcome (back), M16A4

The humble original M16 was originally Armalite’s AR-15, and was first ordered for military service with a contract issued to Colt Firearms in May 1962 for the purchase of early Model 01 rifles to be used by Air Force Security Police.

Note, these guns had waffle-pattern 20-round mags, no forward assist, a thin 1:14 twist barrel, and the early three-prong flash hider.

Fast forward to the XM16E1, which became the M16A1 in 1967, and you started to come closer to the standard Army/Marine rifle used in Vietnam and throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. It used a forward assist and a 1:12 twist barrel.

By 1983, the M16A2 came about, it had a thicker barrel in front of the front sight, a modified flash suppressor (closed on bottom), a new polymer buttstock (lighter and stronger), faster barrel twist (from 1:12 to 1:7), and a spent case deflector for left-hand users. Considered downright vintage by the Army and Marines, the Navy still sports them these days.

M16A2- check
M9 in drop leg holster- check
Body armor- um, about that……

By 1998, the M16A4 was in play, primarily for the Marines, which had a removable carry handle, a Picatinny top rail to allow for optics, short rails on the handguard for accessories, and a 20-inch barrel with a 1:7 RH twist rate.

Note the size difference between the compact M4 Carbine, top, and the full-length M16A4 rifle, bottom. (Photos: Department of Defense)

Since the GWOT kicked off in 2002, the big shift over the years has been to move from the full-length M16 family to the more compact M4/M4A1 carbine, with its collapsible rear stock and stubby 14-inch barrel, leaving the increasingly old-school style rifle as something of a relic today. Heck, the Army for the past couple years has been very actively working on replacing their 5.56 NATO rifles and SAWs with a new 6.8mm weapon. 

Now jump to 2020, and the M16A4 is now apparently the Army’s designated rifle for Foreign Military Sales to equip overseas allies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Nepal.

Colt and FN are competing in a contract to supply as much as $383 million smackers worth of M16A4s by 2025.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Dragons Headed to Pikit, 75 years ago today

An LCI landing craft carries troops of Company I, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry “Victory” Division up the Mindanao River for the assault on Fort Pikit, Philippines, 30 April 1945.

U.S. Signal Corps photo 207688, via NARA

An old Spanish provincial post established in 1893 overlooking the Pulangi River, the small bastioned stone masonry fort was occupied by U.S. troops in 1898, relieving a 65-man Spanish garrison, then handed the site over to the Philippine Constabulary in the 1920s.

The Japanese Imperial Army took over Fort Pikit in 1942 but abandoned it in poor condition in April 1945 before withdrawing into Eastern Mindanao. In 2012, the installation was declared a National Historic Landmark.

As for the 34th Inf Rgt, they were a standing regular Army unit since 1916 and on the eve of the Japanese attack on the Philipines, they were ordered to reinforce the archipelago. Still waiting to embark for the PI on 7 December 1941 at San Francisco, they were instead diverted to Hawaii where they were assigned to defend Oahu until 1943 when made a backbone unit of the reforming 24th Inf Div.

Landing at Hollandia and Biak in New Guinea in 1944, they were in the thick of things in the liberation of the Philipines from October 1944 onward, hitting Red Beach with the first wave and earning the nickname, “Leyte Dragons.” Three of the regiment’s soldiers would receive the MoH (posthumously) for their actions on Leyte. The unit would continue mopping up operations against Japanese holdouts from the central Mindanao jungles into October 1945. The unit would receive the Presidential Unit Citation.

After Occupation Duty in Japan, men of the 34th were one of the first units rushed to South Korea when the balloon went up there and the first U.S. casualty in that forgotten conflict is often thought to be the 34th’s Pvt. Kenneth R. Shadrick, killed in action 5 July 1950, south of Osan.

Korean Conflict. Men of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, covering up behind rocks to shield themselves from exploding mortar shells, near the Hantan River in central Korea. 11 April 1951 LOC LC-USZ62-72424

Apache Junction

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army SOAR Little Birds and OH-58s deploying from FFGs as well as two leased Brown & Root crane barges dubbed Mobile Sea Base Hercules and Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown 7. Set-up in the Northern Persian Gulf, the latter supported eight MkIII 65-foot patrol boats and an array of Army AH-64D Longbow Apaches, Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

An aerial view of the leased barge Hercules with three PB Mark III patrol boats and the tugboat Mister John H tied up alongside. The barge is part of Operation Prime Chance, supporting U.S. Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. 1 January 1989 Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Smith DNST8908773

Fast forward to 2020 and the concept is fully fleshed out some 30 years later with the 78,000-ton purposely-built expeditionary mobile base vessels of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) class.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. ESB 3 is able to carry at least four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Puller has a dozen weapon stations (think M2 .50 cals) to protect against small boats, and the ability to support at least four CH-53-sized helicopters and 300 mission crew.

Recently, Puller showcased Task Force Saber, an Army AH-64 unit, which caused a lot of interest from Iranian Revolutionary Guard guys last week.

Official caption: Soldiers of Task Force Saber conduct rotary-wing deck landing operations with the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller in the Persian Gulf April 15-16, 2020. Task Force Saber utilized the USS Puller as a maritime base to practice launching rotary-wing assets. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Trevor Cullen):

Hitting Aitape

U.S. soldiers on the beaches of Aitape, New Guinea, April 22, 1944, on this day 76 years ago, reminding us that it wasn’t just the Devils who island-hopped across the Pacific.

U.S. soldiers on the beaches of Aitape, New Guinea, April 22, 1944 163rd Infantry rgt 41st Division note M1 Carbine US Signal Corps picture 191965

US Signal Corps Photo 191965 via NARA

The soldiers are likely of the Montana National Guard’s 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Division (“Sunsetters”). Note their early M1 Carbines, which had only entered regular production in May 1942, less than two years previously.

The 41st’s other two Regimental Combat Teams, the 162nd, and 186th, were making landings at Humbolt Bay on the same day, leaving the Montanans to take the airfields at Aitape-Tadji alone, dubbed Operation Persecution, and push back units of the Japanese 18th Army.

National Archives (NARA) Still Picture Identifier: 26-nm-3-2. Memorandum for the Armed Forces. Subject: Home Front Production.

The 163rd moved rapidly and secured the beach then moved inland, replaced by the follow-on 32nd Infantry Div two weeks later, only to move on to the hell that was Biak.

Formed during the Great War and inducted into federal service 16 September 1940 at Billings for their Second World War, the 163rd fought throughout Papua/New Guinea and the Philippines, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. They ended the war on occupation duty in Honshu.

Today they form the MNG’s 163rd Cavalry Regiment and celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2017.

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