Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

Paging Robert German, Mr. German…

The National Training Center at Fort Irwin, in conjunction with the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming, is trying to make contact with a former track crewman, for historical purposes:

Mr. Robert German, the National Museum of Military Vehicles found your Dog Tags in the M551 Sheridan you drove at the National Training Center. It looks as if you may have been on the Dragon Team, Operations Group, National Training Center The museum curator would like to speak with you and reunite you with your items. Please contact us!

The Sheridan, as we have discussed in previous posts, the much-maligned but very niche M551 Sheridan light tank err, “Airborne Assault Vehicle” entered service in 1967. The 15-ton tracked vehicle could be penetrated by 12.7mm (.50 cal) gunfire, but in theory, could zap an enemy T-34/55 with its innovative M81E1 Rifled 152 mm Gun/ Shillelagh missile launcher. It provided a lot more punch than a jeep with a recoilless rifle, in other words. 

XM551 Sheridan prototype, October 1963 (Rock Island Arsenal Museum) 

Sheridan being LAPES’d out of the back of a C-130

The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor could air-deliver 50~ Sheridans anywhere in the world in 24 hours(ish)– provided they had enough lead time!– and did so in Panama in 1989 and Desert Storm in 1990.

Meant to be replaced in airborne service with the XM8 Buford Armored Gun System, which never got off the ground (see what I did there?) the 82nd retired their aging Sheridans in 1997 but the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the NTC kept a few around for use as viz-modded OPFOR vehicles until 2004.

“M551 Sheridan light tanks cross the desert during an Opposing Forces exercise at the National Training Center. The tanks have visual modifications designed to make it resemble Soviet armor.” (NARA 170912-A-VT981-0001)

82nd gets air-dropped armor, again

On 16 August 1940, a volunteer group of 48 Soldiers from the U.S. 29th Infantry Regiment became the Army’s first parachute test platoon and stepped from a few perfectly good airplanes– B18 bombers– at Fort Benning. They were behind the times as a small force of Italian Arditi assault troops had already gone into combat behind Austrian lines in 1918 and Kurt Student’s Fallschirmjäger troops had been all over Denmark, Norway, Belguim and Holland already in 1940, seizing key points just ahead of the panzers.

Speaking of panzers, the business of riding a parachute into combat translated into very lightly armed troops. The Fallschirmjägers, for instance, typically just dropped with a handgun and gravity knife, marring up with their rifles, LMGs and Schmeissers from canisters dropped separately once on the ground. Hell, the British Paras still only went into battle in 1982 in the Falklands with Sterling SMGs as the L1A1 (semi-auto inch-pattern FALs) were considered too bulky for airborne work.

In WWII, armed Jeeps and light armor– such as the Light Tank Mk VII Tetrarch, of which 22 were landed at D-Day by the British– had to be brought in by gliders. By the end of the war, the 7-ton M22 Locust light tank was developed and, capable of being carried by a C-54, was instead carried by Hamilcar gliders into the Operation Varsity drop across the Rhine just a couple weeks before Hitler sucked on his Walther.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, with the development of the para-capable T92 Light Tank stalled and the M41A1 Walker just too heavy to strap a parachute too, about the best the 82nd Airborne could term as mechanized units were teams of Jeeps carrying recoilless rifles, which could be air-dropped.

Operation Power Pack: Dominican Republic intervention, 1965. Jeep w, recoilless rifle of the 82nd ABN, about as good as it got until the Sheridan came along.

This ended when the much-maligned but very niche M551 Sheridan light tank err, “Airborne Assault Vehicle” entered service in 1967. The 15-ton tracked vehicle could be penetrated by 12.7mm (.50 cal) gunfire, but in theory, could zap an enemy T-34/55 with its innovative M81E1 Rifled 152 mm Gun/ Shillelagh missile launcher.

Sheridan being LAPES’d out of the back of a C-130

The 82nd used a battalion of these, some 51 vehicles, as the 4th Bn/68th Armored Rgt 22 March 1968 until 7 February 1984, when it was reflagged as 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor, later dropping a platoon of Sheridans in a combat jump in 1989 in Panama and deploying the whole battalion to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield the next year (where the Shillelagh missile was finally used in combat to plink Iraqi bunkers and T-55s in the follow-on Desert Storm.)

A soldier from Co. A, 3rd Bn., 73rd Airborne Armor Regt., 82nd Airborne Div., lays out equipment for an M-551 Sheridan light tank prior to the 82nd Airborne Division live-fire exercise during Operation Desert Shield.

While the M8 “Buford” Armored Gun System (light tank) was to replace the Sheridan, it never went into production and in 1997 3-73 AR was stripped of its tanks. While since then an Immediate Ready Company (IRC) consisting of Abrams tanks and Bradley armored fighting vehicles from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia has been “on call” to deploy with the 82nd, it has to be landed by C-5s at a strip, and can’t be airdropped.

But now, after 21 years without it, the All Americans have organic armor again in the form of a battalion of surplus Marine LAV25A2s.

The 4th Battalion, 68th Armored Rgt was reactivated this week at Bragg.

1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division celebrated the activation of Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment in the Hall of Heroes on Fort Bragg, N.C. on Oct. 26, 2018. 4-68 Armor carries a storied history, back to World War I. It last cased its colors on February 15th, 1984. Photo By Sgt. Gin-Sophie De Bellotte |

From the Army’s presser:

“We now have the capability to counter lightly armored threats on the battlefield with something more than missile systems,” said Cpt. Aram M. Hatfield, company commander of the newly activated 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment in the division.

IBCTs constitute the Army’s “light” ground forces and are an important part of the nation’s ability to project forces overseas. They can get there fast with low logistics demand and they can work in severely restricted terrain.

“There’s nothing in the division right now with that amount of firepower and speed,” said Hatfield.

The LAVs have been drop certified earlier this year.

The LAV-25A2 is just about to land on Sicily Drop Zone, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Photo by Jim Finney, Audio Visual Specialist, Airborne and Special Operations Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command Public Affairs.)

Devil Dogs a-go-go

Official caption: “1/8 Marines move up to the front lines to relieve Marines from 3/6, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. USMC Photo May 8 1965.” Note the M14s, canvassed mortar tube, two cases of mortar shells, and the box of C-rats.

DEFENSE DEPT. PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A19567

As noted by The Tank Museum:

The M274 Mechanical Mule was one of the smallest military vehicles priced. It was intended to move casualties of supplies in jungle terrain where even a jeep couldn’t go, or for airborne units where it could be helicoptered or airdropped. 11,000 were built between 1956 and 1970. The steering column could be tilted right down, allowing it to be “driven” in reverse by a man crawling behind it. Despite its complete lack of armor, it could be used to mount heavy weapons up to the 106mm recoilless, though it was intended merely to move them from place to place.

Let’s go down to the Dominican Republic, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…

DEFENSE DEPT. PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A4503022. May 8 1965, Sgt R.O. Shaw.

Caption: Locating a Sniper—A rifle squad from Company “D,” 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, searches for a sniper firing at the position inside the International Safety Zone in Santo Domingo. Note the M1 helmets, Korean War style flak vests and M-14.

The action in the Dominican Republic was not the pushover some often chalk it up to. In the end, Johnson lamented ordering troops into action there. The below doc from the invasion is surprisingly gritty, and directly addresses the sniper problem in the above photo.

The hodgepodge that is the Dominican Navy’s small arms

The Navy of the Dominican Republic or Armada de Republica Dominicana (A.R.D), dates back to 1844 and has had lots of ups and downs. Mainly downs.

Just after WWII, El Jefe Rafael Trujillo expanded the ARD to a respectable force that was the largest in the Caribbean and, after the U.S. and Canada, the “ABC” states, Peru and Mexico was still solidly in the Top 10 in the Western Hemisphere.

The battle line at its height included a dozen ocean-going warships:

Juan Pablo Duarte (F-102)

Juan Pablo Duarte (F-102)

*Four frigates:
-Presidente Trujillo/Mella (F101), formerly River-class frigate HMCS Carlplace, active 1946-62
-Juan Pablo Duarte (F102), formerly Asheville-class patrol frigate USS Natchez (PF-2), active 1948-59
-Presidente Troncoso/Gregorio Luperón (F103), formerly Tahoma-class patrol frigate USS Pueblo (PF-13), active 1948-79
-Presidente Peynado/Capitán General Pedro Santana (F104), ex-USS Knoxville (PF-64), active 1947-79

*Five former 1,000-ton Canadian Flower-class corvettes:
Cristobal Colon (C101), ex-HMCS Lachute (K440), active 1947-78
Juan Bautista Maggiolo (C102), ex-HMCS Riviere du Loup (K357), active 1947-72
Juan Bautista Cambiaso (C103), ex-HMCS Belleville (K332), active 1947-72
Juan Alejandro Acosta (C104), ex-HMCS Louisburg (K401), active 1947-78
Gerardo Jansen (C105), ex-HMCS Peterborough (K342), active 1947-72

*Three 165 foot gunboats (former USCG cutters)
Restauracion (P-104), former USCGC Galatea (WPC-108), active 1948-85
Independencia (P-105, later P-204), former USCGC Icarus (WPC-110), killer of U-352, active 1948-98
Rafael Atoa (P106), then Libertad (P205), former USCGC Thetis (WPC-115), killer of U-157, active 1948-98

*Don’t laugh at these plucky little tubs, the Coast Guard used 26 of these type vessels across both World Wars and, as noted above both Thetis and Icarus accounted for at least one German sub each during the war and remained functional enough to endure into the late 1990s with the Dominican Navy.

In addition to the above they fleet had about a dozen surplus USN Admirable-class minesweepers, Cherokee-class fleet tugs, Sotoyomo-class tugs, Cohoes-class net laying ships and LSMs.

The Air Force in the meantime picked up P-51s (and was the last country to use them, all the way until 1984) while the Army grew to over 30,000 men, equipped with M1 Carbines and Garands, a smattering of Spanish CETMEs and Armalite AR-10s, and of course the Hungarian-designed but locally-produced Cristobol carbine.

Trujillo also expanded the ARD to include a naval infantry unit (though they were not officially called Marines until 2008) and a frogman unit (Hombres Rana) which were trained by some Italian and French mercenaries in the 1950s and early 1960s including the mysterious Elio Capozzi who claimed to have driven Chariot human torpedoes against the British in WWII before working for Skorzeny after Italy went to shit.

Italian merc Elio Capozzi (U.S. HBT camo and AR-10) speaks with a Dominican rebel with a Cristobol Carbine, 1965,

Italian merc Elio Capozzi (U.S. HBT camo and AR-10) speaks with a Dominican rebel with a Cristobol Carbine, 1965,

As noted by Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC, an expert on the DR’s military at the time, he described the force as such:

There was also a Foreign Legion of sorts, consisting of six light infantry battalions. Originally it was planned to recruit an anti-Communist legion amongst professionals in Europe. Instead of getting high-class freedom fighters what was recruited was low-class riff-raff of the Mediterranean. After a series of imprisonments, mutinies, and so forth, the ranks were filled up with Cuban émigrés and Dominican volunteers. Most of the Legion was kept up on the Haitian frontier.

Well, after the Navy fractured during the Dominican Civil War and U.S. busted in the door in the DR in 1965, (which left Capozzi in a grave, the Hombres Rana scattered, and the WWII-era fleet largely tied to their piers until they were sold off as scrap in the 1970s), the force entered doldrums.

Since 2000, however, the force has rebounded a bit with the donation of more “new to you” equipment including U.S. Navy ships and Coast Guard vessels, and has expanded their land forces to include a full Marine battalion, Amphibious Command (Comando Anfibio), and a reborn frogman corps (Comandos Navales/Fuerzas Especiales)– some of whom served in Iraq as part of the Spanish-speaking Plus Ultra Brigade, where they had some heavy contacts.

Here are some interesting pictures from this year’s annual military parades.

The Dominicans are using new Czech Sa. vz.58 Military models with their very distinctive UA-VZP folding stock, AG-58 pistol grip and VFR-VZ rail system.

Marines...

Marines…

Froggers...(note the extra mags for 9mm sidearms)

Froggers…(note the extra mags for 9mm sidearms)

Of course, lots of M16A1s, donated around 1999, are still around

Of course, lots of M16A1s, donated post-1999, are still around

As are some very sweet looking M60E3s. Note the M203 to the left.

As are some very sweet looking M60’s. Note the M203 to the left.

The official sidearm of the force is the Taurus PT99, a Brazilian near-clone of the Beretta 92. Note the Philippine-made ammo

The official sidearm of the force is the Taurus PT99, a Brazilian near-clone of the Beretta 92. Note the Philippine-made ammo

Speaking of old school, now THAT's Naval Infantry!

Speaking of old school, now THAT’s Naval Infantry! Note the mix of both 1960s M16A1s and newer M16A2s and M4s.

Also, the DR picked up a bunch of surplus Mauser rifles from Brazil in the 1960s, but sold them as surplus some time in the late 1980s/early 1990s after reconditioning them. Details on said reconditioning here from Ian McCollum with Forgotten Weapons:

The rare Swiss SIG MKPO submachine gun

Here we see a lovely Pal Kiraly-designed MKPO made in Neuhausen, Switzerland, by Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG).

Swiss SIG MKPO submachine gun

The mags fold up into a recess in the forearm

Swiss SIG MKPO submachine gun 2

Only 1228 of these guns were produced between 1933 and 1941. This one is the MKPO, the short barreled variant, serial number 1162. We can assume it was made in 1941. Caliber is the very hard-hitting 9x25mm Mauser and they were capable of firing at 900 rpms. Photos Sourced from James D. Julia Inc.

sig_mkpo with its magazine folded forward

Note, magazine folded up

Interestingly enough, one of the largest users of these innovative machine carbines was the Pontifical Swiss Guard who still keep a very well preserved rack of these in their armory to this day.

SIG MKPO subguns on bottom left and MP43 44s top left ready to go in the Swiss Guards armory note the two-handed swords to the right

SIG MKPO subguns on bottom left with their mags folded up into the forearm and MP43 44s top left ready to go in the Swiss Guards armory. Note the two-handed swords to the right

For more on the arsenal of the Swiss Guard, see my article over at Guns.com

Also of note, Pal Kiraly was a Hungarian who later fled to the Dominican Republic and designed the San Cristobal carbine for bad old Trujillo, who thought himself a bit higher up the food chain than the Pope, at least as far the DR was concerned.