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75 Years Ago Today: The Rolling W Across the Rhine

On this day in 1945, the below image caught Soldiers of the U.S. 89th Infantry Division rolling across the Rhine at Oberwesel, Germany, 26 March 1945, carried by landing craft.

Note the above highlights the range of infantry weapons carried at the time including M-1 rifles– one with a rifle grenade attachment, Thompson M1 submachine gun, and an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.

NARA Photo U. S. Signal Corps 202464

The 89th “Rolling W” Division landed in France on 10 January 1945 and saw first combat on 12 March– just two weeks before the above image was taken. In their 57 Days under fire in the ETO, they suffered 1,029 casualties and produced no less than 46 Silver Star recipients. In addition, they helped liberate Ohrdruf, a Buchenwald subcamp.

What was in the rucks and saddlebags while chasing Villa

Steve1989, who runs a crazy MRE/ration testing channel on YouTube, laid hands on a Dec. 1906-born-on U.S. Army Emergency Ration. About the size of a large can of soup, it weighs 20-ounces and consists of bread, pemmican, and chocolate totaling about 2,000 calories if everything but the tin and paper packaging is wolfed down.

And, yes, he tastes it, and it seems to hold up to a degree. I mean for a century-old ration, anyway.

This would be the standard ration for the first part of the 20th Century and would be what the boys used in the Philipines, Pershing’s Punitive Expedition would lug around Mexico, and the earlier Doughboys take “Over There.”

These guys

The Forgotten Iwo Jima Joes

While everyone remembers Iwo Jima as being a Navy-Marine Team win– the Marine’s monument at Arlington includes the iconic flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi as its centerpiece– there were also some Army troops involved in the campaign.

The 147th Infantry Regiment is an Ohio Army National Guard unit that dates back to 1861 when it formed as the 6th Ohio Infantry and went on to fight at Chickamauga. After suiting up again to fight against Spain in 1898, march into Mexico on the hunt for Pancho Villa in 1916, and slug it out with the Germans on the Western Front, the 147th was called back to federal service for a fifth time in 1941 when it formed the fourth regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. When that unit was converted from a “4-brigade “square” to a 3-brigade “triangle” the 147th was cut and would spend WWII a free agent of sorts.

After seeing the elephant alongside Marine units at Guadalcanal and being used as a garrison force on Emirau, Saipan, Tinian, and Eniwetok against isolated Japanese hold outs and raids, the 147th was tapped in to relieve exhausted Marine units on Iwo Jima some 29 days after D-Day.

The unit arrived offshore 75 years ago today on 20 March 1945, some 2,952 strong.

Make no mistake, while in many places you would think that an island would be safe a month after it was hit by three Marine divisions when the 147th arrived there was still a lot of work to do. For instance, just three days after the Army troops arrived, the Japanese launched a 300-man banzai attack into a rear-area near a hospital that had to be fought off by a combination that included Army Air Force pilots, Navy Seabees, and Marine pioneers.

OFFICER BIVOUAC AREA of the 21st Fighter Group following the Japanese attack on 24 March 1945. Note bullet-marked tents. (USAF 70576 AC)

Relieving the 3rd Marine Division in place after landing on Purple Beach, each of the regiment’s three battalions was assigned a sector to pacify and clear.

As told by in Douglas Nash’s “Army Boots on Volcanic Sands

On its first day of combat, patrols from the 1st Battalion (147th) killed 23 Japanese while being guided into their new area by Marines familiar with the area. Japanese troops probed their defensive positions that evening, randomly tossing hand grenades that kept everyone awake in their foxholes.

Over the next several weeks, the Ohioans would use Marine-developed “corkscrew and blowtorch” tactics against the warren of Japanese cave positions, a method that blended grenades, submachine guns and flamethrowers with the occasional bazooka, light machine gun and satchel charge thrown in for good measure.

Soldiers from the 147th Infantry engaging heavily fortified Japanese positions on Iwo Jima with an M1918 BAR and M9 bazooka

147th Infantry Regiment flame Thrower attack 8 Apil 1945

Caves of Iwo Jima by Army Artist Hans Mangelsdorf

By the end of the month, the regiment would suffer eight killed and 53 wounded, garnered while killing 387 Japanese and capturing 17 of the Emperor’s troops in the process.

In April, when a platoon of Japanese-speaking Nisei volunteers was attached to help coax out isolated and starving troops, the 147th took into custody 664 Japanese troops but still killed another 963 who couldn’t be talked into surrender.

Army troops clear cave on Iwo Jima with Thompson submachine guns. The man in the foreground is likely a Nisei terp.

Soon, the 147th would also relieve the 5th Marine Division and by 20 April was the only ground combat unit left on the island. They would continue their mopping up and garrison operations there through VJ-Day, in all accounting for nearly 2,500 (some say 6,000) Japanese troops while, says Nash, “the number who died in sealed up caves will never be known.”

In turn, the 147th would suffer 15 killed and 144 wounded in their often brutal Iwo Jima campaign. While elements of the unit would be siphoned off for assignments in Burma and on Tinian, the latter guarding the A-bomb, the Ohioans still on Iwo in September 1945 would deploy to newly-captured Okinawa for more mopping up duties there before returning home to the U.S., piecemeal, in 1946.

Captured Japanese Anti-Aircraft Gun, Iwo Jima, 1945 Mount Suribachi in the background.

The 147th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) is still a unit of the Ohio National Guard. Their motto is Cargoneek Guyoxim – Always Ready

Recognizing the WWII Rangers, Merchant Mariners

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day M1 Garand BAR 80-G-45716

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day M1 Garand BAR 80-G-45716

Between June 1942 and the end of WWII, the Army formed from volunteers 6 Ranger Infantry Battalions (numbered 1st-6th) and 1 provisional Ranger battalion (29th, from Army National Guardsmen of the 29th ID).

S.1757 just passed the Senate on a unanimous voice vote last week.

“This bill directs the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to arrange for the award of a single gold medal to the U.S. Army Ranger veterans of World War II in recognition of their dedicated wartime service.

Following its award, the gold medal shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution where it shall be available for display and research.”

It now heads to the House.

In related news,

On Friday, March 13, 2020, the President signed into law:

H.R. 5671, the “Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020,” which provides for the award of a Congressional gold medal collectively, to the United States Merchant Mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during the conflict.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Battle Standard bears the number “142” on its field of red, white and blue, representing the academy’s cadets killed in WWII.  

Army Goes Leupold for glass to put on new MK 22 rifles

Oregon-based Leupold announced they have been selected to provide the day optic for the U.S. Army’s Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) program.

The PSR, dubbed the MK22 Mod 0 in Army service, is based on the Barrett MRAD bolt-action multi-caliber system chambered in 7.62 NATO, .300 Norma Magnum, and .338 Norma Magnum. The glass of choice on the new platform, used by SOCOM, will be Leupold’s Mark 5HD 5-25×56, complete with a flat dark earth coating and the Army’s patented Mil-Grid reticle.

Leupold’s Mark 5HD 5-25×56 will be provided in a flat dark earth coating and utilize the Army’s Mil-Grid reticle. When mounted on the Barrett MRAD, it will be the standard day optic for the MK22 PSR. (Photo: Leupold)

More in my column at Guns.com.

Army moves ahead with buying upto $33M worth of HK G38 sniper/marksman rifles

The U.S. Army Contracting Command on Wednesday announced a contract award to Hecker & Koch worth over $33 million.

The Ashburn, Virginia-based company was awarded a $33.5 modification to contracts for the Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System and the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle. In a nutshell, the CSASS is a more precision rifle with a 3-20 power optic and match/sniper ammo while the SDMR is for use at the platoon-level with ball ammo and a 1-6x24mm optic.

The CSASS, classified by the Army as the M110A1 rifle, is a variant of the company’s G28 (HK241) platform chambered in 7.62 NATO. The rifle, which itself is a development of the HK417 series, was first green-lighted by Uncle in 2016.

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

As its name program name would imply, the rifle is light, weighing in at 8.48-pounds sans optics and accessories. Its primary day optic is the Schmidt & Bender scope on a Geissele mount with accessories to include a suppressor and bipod.

I’ve handled them at trade shows, and they are really nice.

What’s not to love about an HK417, especially when it is set up as a DMR? (Photo: Chris Eger)

More in my column at Guns.com.

FN Still Cruising Along on M4 Contracts for Another 5 years

South Carolina-based FN America beat out a crowd of other vendors to land a whale of a military contract for new M4s.

The company was awarded a $119,216,309 firm-fixed-price contract for a mix of two 5.56 NATO-caliber weapons– the M4 Carbine, NSN: 1005-01-382-0973, and M4A1 Carbine, NSN: 1005-01-382-0953. The contract, awarded by Picatinny Arsenal on behalf of Project Manager – Soldier Lethality (PM SL), was made public last Thursday and stemmed from a March 2019 solicitation for which six bids were submitted.

I visited the company’s Columbia, South Carolina facility, last summer and FN said at the time they made roughly 500 M4s every day.

After they’re test fired, they’re disassembled, cleaned, then reassembled and given a 101-point inspection. Then, they’re literally dipped in preservation oil and packaged 50 rifles to a large wooden crate.

Gonna be a lot more crates over the next several years.

More details in my column at Guns.com 

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