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Japanese Convoy HI-88J Meets Apaches, 75 Years Ago Today

On 29 March 1945, Japanese Convoy HI-88J was intercepted in the South China Sea some 35 miles off Cap Batangan, French Indochina by B-25 Mitchell bombers of the 498th and 501st Bomb Squadrons of the 345th Bomb Group (Air Apaches), U.S. Fifth Air Force. In a running battle, the Japanese Type D-class escort ship CD-18 was strafed, bombed and sunk with the loss of her skipper and 184 crewmen.

USAAC Photo B-57672

The escort was followed quickly by her sistership, CD-130, which carried her entire 178 crew to the bottom, as well as the tanker Kaiko Maru.

Also sent to the bottom that day was CD-84, another Type D, scratched by the Gato-class fleet sub, USS Hammerhead (SS-364), torpedoed and sunk with her entire crew. Onboard CD-84 were also a number of survivors from the tanker Honan Maru, which had been sunk by the submarine USS Bluegill the previous day.

On 30 March, the next day, the Apaches went out again and found HI-88J off Yulin, China, where they sank the auxiliary sub chaser Shinan Maru before the convoy made it out of range.

Sortie of the Gunboat Submarines

From the very first U.S. Naval submarine commissioned, USS Holland (SS-1)— which was designed with a “dynamite cannon” in addition to her torpedo tube– American subs have tended to tote around some sort of gun to either make short work of small craft or at least fire the literal “shot across the bow” to make a vessel heave to.

Sure, there have been some classes that didn’t mount a piece on the roof, and since the end of Vietnam when the final WWII-era diesel fleet boats were withdrawn, about the biggest piece of artillery available to a surfaced U.S. submarine is a 5.56mm light machine gun, but in between you had everything from 3-inchers to 6-inchers carried.

Thus:

Perhaps the pinnacle of gun-armed U.S. submarine surface actions was the cruise of “Latta’s Lancers,” under CDR Frank D. Latta aboard his flagship boat USS Lagarto (SS-371) some 75 years ago last month.

CDR Frank D. Latta

Lagarto, a Balao-class boat commissioned in late 1944, was given a very gun-heavy suite to include a pair of 5″/25 caliber Mark 40 wet mounts as well as two 40mm/60 Bofors singles augmented with eight .50-cal M2 pintels.

This battery, enhanced with additional topside ready-use lockers, an expanded small arms magazine and the ability to store 220 80-pound 5-inch shells, gave the 311-foot boat a decent surface armament that rivaled a patrol frigate.

The Mark 40 was an interesting piece, weighing as much as a smaller 3-incher, but packing much more punch. Further, it could be put into action within a minute of surfacing.

USS Sea Dog (SS-401) with 5″/25 deck gun in action, as the submarine operates near Guam, preparing for her final war patrol into the Sea of Japan, circa mid or late May 1945.

The Mark 40. With a weight of 7-tons, a trained crew could make one of these stubby boys sing at about 15 rounds per minute– provided the shells could be hustled up the hatch from below at a fast enough rate.

A Mark 40 preserved today on the USS Drum, sistership to Lagarto. These guns had a maximum range of 14,200 yards.

Coupled with the similarly up-gunned submarines USS Haddock (SS-231), and USS Sennet (SS-408), Latta’s Lancers, formed a three-craft American wolf pack tasked with causing a ruckus off southern Honshū, Japan.

“Gunboat” submarines with two 5″/25 (12.7 cm) guns and centralized fire control. The submarine closest to the picture appears to be USS Sennet (SS-408). Note the two 5″/25s on deck and two 40mm guns on her sail

The goal was a diversion intended to lure early warning craft some 200 miles away from the track of carrier air strikes against Tokyo.

Surfacing in the predawn hours of 13 February 1945 and using their SJ surface radars to track a set of small Japanese trawlers-turned-gunboats that they dutifully opened fire on– and allowed said trawlers to transmit a warning back to Tokyo– before the subs sank same. The prey was no mighty craft, Kotoshiro Maru No.8 (109 tons) and Showa Maru No.3 (76 tons), but the mission was accomplished.

Later that night, around 2200, the Lancers began stalking two more auxiliary patrol boats and were able to engage the pair in the dark hours of 14 February. That action left the Kanno Maru No.3 (98 tons) damaged and Sennet with a number of holes in her sail. In the end, all three subs were out of 5-incher shells, leaving the trio to finish their patrols separately and through the use of torpedos.

Haddock would successfully return to port, then spent the rest of the war on lifeguard station near Tokyo, standing by to rescue downed airmen after raids on Japanese cities. Used as a reserve boat off and on after the conflict, she was sold for scrap in 1960.

Sennet had a much longer life, serving until 1968, and was sold for scrap in 1973.

Sadly, Lagarto would be sunk on her 2nd patrol by the Japanese net layer Hatsutaka on 3 May 1945, in the South China Sea, with all hands lost. This included CDR Latta, who sailed his boat to join the flotilla of 51 other American submarines on Eternal Patrol in WWII.

She has been visited several times since, and her twin 5″ guns helped in her identification.

One of Lagarto’s two deck guns. Photo via Navsource courtesy Steve Burton. http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08371.htm

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.

After 100 Years, Marines Could Lose Their Tanks

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

The Wall Street Journal has a report that the Marines are set to drastically reboot in the next decade. In short, they will get leaner and lighter, shedding about 15,000 Marines, ditching lots of old-school 155mm tube artillery in favor of mobile truck-mounted anti-ship missile batteries. The 8th Marines would be disbanded along with some helicopter squadrons while the number of UAV squadrons will be doubled.

The focus of the new 2030 USMC would be an updated Wake Island 1941 program-– landing on and defending small Pacific islands to deny the use of an area to a Chinese naval force.

Oh yeah, and the Marines will also lose all of their beautiful and hard-serving Abrams main battle tanks.

A century of support to the Devils

The Marines got into the tank game in the 1920s and has employed armor in every major combat action ever since– with the exception of Wake Island.

In 1923, the Marines established Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary Force at Quantico with a handful of Great War surplus U.S. Army (a trend that would continue) M1917 Renault light tanks, two-man 6-ton vehicles armed with a light machine gun.

Marine M1917 Renault Light Tanks, “Tanks Going into Action, Antietam, 1924”

In 1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in China, where it would operate for a year before it returned to the States and was disbanded in 1930.

Then came two armored platoons stood up in the mid-1930s equipped with the light (5-ton) Marmon-Harrington tankettes, of which a whopping 10 were acquired.

Marine Marmon-Herrington tankette landing from lighter, 1930s

On 1 August 1940, the USMC established the 3d Tank Company with M2A4 light tanks. This unit the next year became Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion and by early 1942 were rushed to defend American Samoa. By August, they were landing at Guadalcanal.

A Marine M2A4 light tank on Guadalcanal, 1942 “MOP UP UNIT– Two alert U.S. Marines stand beside their small tank which helped blast the Japanese in the battle of the Tenaru River during the early stages of fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Those well-manned, sturdy machines readily mopped up strong points of enemy resistance.”

Upgrading to M4 Shermans in time for 1943’s Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation, the Marines would continue to use the hardy medium tank in a force that would grow to six battalions.

1944 M4A2 Sherman tank Company A, 1st Tank Marine Battalion passing a Japanese blockhouse at Peleliu

By Korea, the Marines were able to put their Shermans to pasture and begin using the 90mm-equipped M26 Pershing and the M46 tank.

“Marine tanks parked in the southwest part of the perimeter of Koto-ri. The high ground was within the perimeter. 1950”

Lessons learned in Korea brought about the medium-and-heavy combo that was the M48A1 and the M103, which were used in Lebanon in 1958, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where Marine tankers were ashore at GTMO) and the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic.

Then came Vietnam, where the Marines continued to utilize the upgraded M48A3 although the Army was switching to the M60 Patton.

6 March 1967, a Marine M48A3 in Vietnam. Note the Playboy Bunny. “Tankers Construct Road: A blade-wielding tank of the 1st Tank Battalion carves a road for Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines [2/26] during an operation south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Private First Class Warren E. Wilson).”

The Marines would only upgrade to the M60A1 in 1975, once Vietnam was in the rearview, a tank they would keep– with much modification– through the First Gulf War. Importantly, it was the M60s of the Marines that were the first serious armor on the ground in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm.

Since 2001, Abrams-equipped Marine tank platoons have been very busy, deploying multiple times to the Middle East. This included company-size deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as carving platoons off to float around with MEUs in the Fleet.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 3d Platoon during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003– note the M1 tank support

The Corps currently fields 403 M1A1/A2 variants, less than one-tenth of the amount the Army/National Guard has on hand. Of course, as the Marines just have three tank battalions, one of which is a reserve unit, there are only about 180 of these tanks in unit service, with the rest of the hulls forward-deployed in places like Norway and in other forms of long-term storage.

If all goes according to plan, by 2030 the Marines will have zero Abrams.

Planned upgrades, scheduled to take place through 2024, naturally will be a footnote.

And the beat goes on…

A 15-year old with an 88mm Flak Gun, is not your average 15-year-old

A U.S Soldier of the 94th Infantry Division (“Patton’s Golden Nugget”) searches a pair of young Luftwaffe anti-aircraft gunners who surrendered in the leveled Rhineland city of Frankenthal, 23 March 1945– 75 years ago today. If you note, the GI is taking his job seriously, as he has crouched down to make sure he doesn’t miss anything.

Note the Soldier’s tanker boots and M1 Carbine with rifle grenade attachment. Source: National World War II Museum

With most uncrippled men in the Vaterland over the age of 18 sent to the front, the German air force at first recruited then voluntold so-called Luftwaffenhelfer as young as 14 and 15 years old to man anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries during air raids across the Reich from January 1943 onward, with duties doubling into search-and-rescue and fire fighting roles post-raid.

Flakhelfer

By late 1944, it was estimated that as many as a million such youths, both male and female, were serving in part-time auxiliary AAA roles, with some being as young as 11. The typical pay was about 50 pfennigs a day on days they worked.

On a personal note, my great uncle Gustav, then 15/16, met my great aunt Elfriede, then 13/14, while the two worked together as Flakhelfer in the Harz Mountains town of Wernigerode in 1944/45. They later emigrated to Canada together in the 1950s, and two of their sons went on to serve in the Canadian Forces– in West Germany.

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

The Little Black Devils in the Woods, 75 years ago today

Rifleman F.C.S. Lloyd of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles standing beside the regiment’s sign, “The Little Black Devils in the Woods,” in the dark forest of the Klever Reichswald, 19 March 1945.

Library and Archives Canada 3203104

One of the Kaiser’s old Imperial forests in North Rhine-Westphalia between the Rhine and Meuse at the intersection of the German and Dutch border, Klever Reichswald was four miles wide and seven deep, all of it infested in early 1945 by German anti-tank ditches, barbwire, mortar pits, and trenches.

The lines were held by the dug-in 47th Panzer Corps, bolstered by the tough paratroopers of the 6th and 7th Fallschirmjäger Divisions. As a reserve, General der Fallschirmtruppe Alfred Schlemm, Kurt Student’s successor, also had two divisions of so-called “stomach and ear” troops at his disposal, men who had been given earlier military deferments for a variety of ailments ranging from colitis to partial deafness.

In a fierce four-week campaign across February and March 1945, the wood was systematically cleared in Operation Veritable by some 400,000 Allied troops, spearheaded by the First Canadian Army with the U.S. Ninth Army in support. In the end, the Germans lost 45,000 killed, wounded and captured, about half of their force, against 15,000 Allied casualties.

As for the “Little Black Devils”, they were formed in 1883 and picked up their nickname fighting against the Metis two years later, as the latter thought their dark green uniforms were, in fact, black. Among the first Allied troops to land on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, they fought their way across the Rhine and remained in Germany until 1946. Today they are based at Minto Armoury in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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