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Just going out for a walk with the Boys

Here we see men of the BEF’s Royal Irish Fusiliers on the march at Gavrelle, near Arras, 17 October 1939, 80 years ago today. The two men in the foreground are carrying a Boys anti-tank rifle Mk I.

(Photo: IWM)

Chambered in Kynoch & RG .55-caliber Boys, the beefy panzer zapper weighed 35 pounds and was effective when it was designed in 1937 as it could penetrate 23.2mm of armor 100 yards and 18.8mm out to 500 yards, capable of taking on early German tanks (e.g. the Panzer III Ausf. A through C generations only carried 15mm of armor all around).

However, as the war wound on, it became increasingly relegated to other anti-material uses as early RPGs took over the tank-busting role.

Magic Carpet ride, 74

Looming from the fog of the Pacific into San Francisco Bay is the Iowa-class super dreadnought USS Wisconsin (BB-64), seen passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on 15 October 1945. She is carrying returning soldiers home from the Pacific as part of Operation Magic Carpet.

NH 66295

Also note her lengthy homeward bound pennant, denoting continuous overseas duty for more than nine months and returning to a U.S. port. Commissioned 16 April 1944, she had her shakedown on the East Coast and joined Halsey’s 3rd Fleet at Ulithi Atoll via the Panama Canal and Hawaii on 9 December, bound for points West.

One of the last WWII vets on active duty, stands down

Here we see the beautiful Miguel Malvar-class offshore patrol “corvette” BRP Cebu (PS28) of the Philippine Navy on 3 October 2019, as she gave her last day of military service in a career that began in 1944– giving her a rock-solid 75 years of hard duty under two flags. Not bad for a ship considered at the time of her construction to be disposable.

If she looks familiar, she was originally built as USS PCE-881, a former PCE-842-class Patrol Craft Escort, by the Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon during WWII. She commissioned 31 July 1944 and transferred to the PI in 1948 on loan, only striking from the U.S. Navy Register in 1975.

The “oldest fighting ship of the Philippine Navy,” she gave 71 unbroken years of service to Manila to include a famous SAR operation to save the crew of MV Princess of the Stars of Sulpicio Lines, which capsized off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon at the height of typhoon Frank in 2008.

Derived from the 180-foot Admirable-class minesweeper as a substitute for the much more numerous 173-foot PC-461-class of submarine chasers that were used for coastal ASW, the PCE-842-class was just eight feet longer but a lot heavier (650-tons vs 450-tons), which gave them much longer endurance, although roughly the same armament. They carried a single 3″/50 dual purpose mount, three 40mm Bofors mounts, five Oerlikon 20 mm mounts, two depth charge tracks, four depth charge projectors, and two depth charge projectors (hedgehogs)– making them pretty deadly to subs while giving them enough punch to take on small gunboats/trawlers and low numbers of incoming aircraft.

While the U.S. got rid of their 842s wholesale by the 1970s– scrapping some and sinking others as targets– several continued to serve in overseas Allied navies for decades.

The Philippines has used no less than 11 of these retired PCEs between craft transferred outright from the U.S. and ships taken up from former Vietnamese service, eventually replacing their Glen Miller-era GM 12-567A diesel with more modern GM 12-278As, as well as a host of improvements to their sensors (they now carry the SPS-64 surface search and commercial nav radars, for instance.) Gone are the ASW weapons and sonar, but they do still pack the old 3-incher, long since retired by just about everyone else, as well as a smattering of Bofors and Oerlikon.

The class is being retired in conjunction with the arrival of more capable Pohang-class vessels donated by South Korea.

The country still has three of the class on their Naval List, expected to retire by 2022.

  • BRP Miguel Malvar (PS-19), former USS Brattleboro (PCE(R)-852), ex RVN Ngọc Hồi, in PI Navy since 1975.
  • BRP Magat Salamat (PS-20), former USS Gayety (AM-239), ex RVN MSF-239, since 1975.
  • BRP Pangasinan (PS-31), former USS PCE-891, transferred from the U.S. in 1948.

Crotty Coming Home

Corregidor Lifeboat Colt 1911 Pistol In May 1942, the minesweeper USS Quail

Image via National Firearms Museum

On 5 May 1942, the “Old Bird” Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Quail (AM-15) was the last surviving American vessel as the Japanese invaded the Philippines. [We covered her luckier sisters USS Avocet (AVP-4) and USS Heron (AM-10/AVP-2) in separate Warship Wednesdays a few years ago]

When Quail was disabled at Corregidor, site of the last stand of U.S. forces near the entrance to Manila Bay, LCDR J.H. Morrill had the ship scuttled and gave his crew the choice of surrendering to the Japanese or striking out across the open ocean. Seventeen sailors chose to join him on the desperate voyage. With the above pistol recovered from a dead serviceman as their only armament, and virtually no charts or navigational aids, they transversed 2,060 miles of ocean in a 36-foot open motor launch, reaching Australia after 29 days.

LCDR Morrill received the Navy Cross and eventually retired at the rank of Rear Admiral.

As noted by Navsource: “Although the Quail was lost, some of its crew decided that surrendering to the Japanese on Corregidor was not an option. Even though the odds against them were enormous, these incredibly brave men in their small boat managed to avoid Japanese aircraft and warships while, at the same time, battling the sea as well as the weather. But like so many of the men in the old U.S. Asiatic Fleet, they simply refused to give up. It was a remarkable achievement by a group of sailors who were determined to get back home so that they could live to fight another day.”

The gun is currently on display at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, VA.

Quail, U.S. Navy photo from the January 1986 edition of All Hands magazine, via Navsource

Quail, U.S. Navy photo from the January 1986 edition of All Hands magazine, via Navsource

One of the Quail‘s “loaner officers” who didn’t make the trip south was Lt. Jimmy Crotty, USCG, who had a more tragic fate.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Thomas J.E. Crotty

An explosives expert who graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1934 at the head of his class, he was serving with the Joint In-Shore Patrol Headquarters at Cavite when the war kicked off and spent several months on Quail working the minefields around Manila Bay.

When Quail was sunk, he volunteered to move to Corregidor where he served with the Navy’s headquarters staff and was captured while working one of the last 75mm guns with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He died two months later under the unspeakably harsh conditions at Cabanatuan Prison Camp #1.

The USCGA Football team dedicated their 2014 season to Crotty and his Bronze Star and Purple Heart are in the custody of the Academy.

Now, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Thomas J.E. Crotty, 30, of Buffalo, New York, killed during World War II, was accounted for Sept. 10, 2019.

One of the 2,500 Allied POWs who died at Cabanatuan, Crotty was buried along with fellow prisoners in the Camp Cemetery, in grave number 312.

According to DPAA:

Following the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and examined the remains in an attempt to identify them. Due to the circumstances of the deaths and burials, the extensive commingling, and the limited identification technologies of the time, all of the remains could not be identified. The unidentified remains were interred as “unknowns” in the present-day Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

In January 2018, the “unknown” remains associated with Common Grave 312 were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis, including one set, designated X-2858 Manila #2.

To identify Crotty’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Crotty will be buried Nov. 2, 2019, in Buffalo, New York.

Vale, Nine O Nine and those who flew on her

In March 2014, I had to good fortune to take advantage of a leg of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour and visited a three-aircraft flight that included a Consolidated B-24J Liberator (SN 44-44052, “Witchcraft”) a TP-51C Mustang fighter (42-103293, “Betty Jane”) and a late block 85 Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (44-83575, painted as 42-31909, “Nine O Nine”).

It was a beautiful day and they were beautiful, and increasingly machines.

The original Nine O Nine survived the great Augsburg raid and 18 roundtrips over Berlin with the 8th Air Force over a 140 mission career in WWII. SN 44-83575, shown above in the more famous Fortress’ colors, was built too late for combat, then served as a rescue aircraft, Atomic instrumentation aircraft, and forest fire bomber until she was restored to her original WWII configuration in the 1980s by the Collings Foundation. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Sadly, yesterday at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport, Nine O Nine was destroyed in the crash, and seven of the thirteen people on board were killed.

World War II Glider Pilots to Reunite in Fayetteville, North Carolina

An easy and cost-effective way to move light infantry and their equipment, to include some that were too heavy for the parachutes of the day, glider-borne air landing units were in vogue during WWII. The Germans kicked off their combat use when eight gliders full of specially-trained sappers landed atop the supposedly impregnable Belgian fortress at Eben Emael in May 1940 and captured it by lunch.

The U.S. Army’s Glider Forces were established in 1942 and, after a lot of trial and error, a full two- and later three-battalion Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) or two was assigned to each American airborne division.

In all, 13 GIRs were formed with many seeing heavy combat. These included the 187th and 188th GIR (11th Abn Div), 325th (82nd Abn), 193rd and 194th (17th Abn), 327th and 401st (101st Abn).

Some 13,900 Waco CG-4, the standard U.S. glider, were produced during the war and were smaller than the British Horsa and Hamilcar gliders. Capable of carrying 13 troops and their equipment, they could also tote a jeep or 75mm pack howitzer in the nose. Today, only about 25 CG-4s still exist.

After seeing action in Europe and the Pacific, gliders were eliminated from the Army in 1953, as the military switched to helicopters for “air assault”

However, veterans of those Glidermen still survive.

(Presser from the FACVB):

Men who flew on silent wings to deliver troops, weapons, and supplies in key points on the World War II front are coming to the Fayetteville, North Carolina area in October to reunite and remember those harrowing moments in the battle against tyranny across the globe.

The 49th Annual National World War II Glider Pilot Reunion (WW2GPC) is coming to Fayetteville October 10 – 12th. The reunion will join Glider pilots and several veterans from the various Troop Carrier groups including power pilots, other C-47 crew members, mechanics, as well as family members and historians. Approximately 125 veterans, members, researchers and flight officers from the Air Force Academy will be attending. The event will take place at the Doubletree by Hilton in Fayetteville.

Events throughout the conference include tours of Fort Bragg and dinner and presentations on post two evenings. The conference concludes with a dinner banquet at the hotel Saturday evening, with Lt. Col. Stewart Lindsay, Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, as guest speaker.

Part of the evening’s presentations will include Katharine Manning, daughter of Glider Pilot John George Manning, accepting her father’s long overdue Bronze Star Medal (BSM.) BSM recipients were to have been awarded the medal in 1945 as requested by their commander Major Charles Gordon, of the 435th Troop Carrier Group.

Approximately 6,000 individuals were trained as glider pilots. The numbers of surviving glider pilots and troop carriers are declining as the age range is over 90 years old. The glider pilots are proud of their silver wings with the large letter “G” which they say, really stands for GUTS. It took guts to fly the glider beyond enemy lines on a one-way mission.

Veterans will be available to speak with the media and share stories from World War II. Please contact Mary Roemer, Reunion Chair 336-655-6607 about setting up media opportunities on Friday and Saturday. Contact Ms. Roemer or navigate to https://www.ww2gp.org/reunion.php for more information.

Frommer, FEG and Femaru

Budapest’s Fegyver- és Gépgyártó Részvénytársaság (FEG) is now one of the biggest water heater makers and HVAC distributors in Europe. However, from the 1880s until 2004, they cranked out a myriad of small arms for the Austro-Hungarian, and later Hungarian proper, military and police. This included the AKM/D-63/65 Kalash, PA-63 Makarov, the 9mm version of the TT33 for Egypt known and loved by collectors as the “Tokagypt,” Pál Király’s Danuvia subguns, and others.

One of my favorites was the Femaru M37, Rudolf Frommer’s swan song. Over 300,000 of these classic semi-autos were produced between 1937 and 1945, seeing extensive service during World War II.

Hungarian Femaru pistols are one of the few affordable WWII-era martial handguns left floating around these days. (Photo: Richard Taylor/Guns.com)

More on the Frommer-FEG-Femaru history in my column over at Guns.com

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