How these paratroopers came to be called 'The Rock Regiment' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment is unique in the annals of airborne history. It was one of only two parachute regiments to fight in the Pacific during World War II and the only one still active today.


 

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Paratroopers from The Rock Regiment land on Corregidor, 1945. (Photo from U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Throughout the war in the Pacific, the 503rd fought independently, first as a regiment and then as a regimental combat team.

After arriving in the Pacific in December 1942, the 503rd conducted the first combat jump in the Pacific in New Guinea on Sept. 5, 1943. A second jump occurred on the island of Noemfoor in July 1944.

The 503rd then joined in the effort to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese landing on the island of Leyte.

A combat jump onto the island of Mindoro was called off due to inadequate launch-capable airfields. Instead, the 503rd conducted an amphibious assault landing alongside the 19th Infantry Regiment. After two days of fighting, the small island was secured.

The 503rd then moved on to prepare for their next challenge: the assault of the fortress island of Corregidor.

The island of Corregidor, known as “The Rock” to the Americans, posed serious challenges for an assaulting force.

For one, the island had formidable defenses and a strong garrison. While the Americans had intimate knowledge of the layout of the island (they did build it, after all), they knew how difficult it would be to overtake.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Corregidor, a formidable target. (Image from U.S. Army)

Second, the island was rather small and the only suitable area for a parachute drop was on a portion known as “Topside.” This meant that the paratroopers of the 503rd would literally be landing right on top of the Japanese. To make matters worse, any misdrops – a common occurrence among World War II combat jumps – would put the paratroopers right in the ocean.

With all this in mind, the men of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team boarded aircraft early on the morning of Feb. 16, 1945 and headed towards The Rock.

Also heading towards Corregidor was the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment that would conduct a simultaneous, amphibious assault of the island in coordination with the airborne operation.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Paratroopers from the 503rd Regimental Combat Team jump from 317th Troop Carrier Group C-47s during the recapture of Corregidor Island, Philippines. (Photo from USAF)

At 0830, after several hours or naval and aerial bombardment, the first paratroopers exited aircraft over the two drop zones.

Due to the exceedingly small and narrow drop zones, the aircraft were unable to drop a full stick at one time and had to fly in two single-file columns. This meant that the aircraft had to wheel around and make multiple passes in order to successfully put their loads of paratroopers on The Rock.

To make matters worse, high winds over the drop zone blew the descending paratroopers off course and over the cliffs of the island. PT boats patrolling the area would later rescue nine paratroopers stranded on the island’s cliffs.

Eventually, the jumpmasters discovered that only at a height of 400 feet and with a five second delay upon entering the drop zone, could they successfully land the stick on target.

Once they were on target however, their problems had just begun.

Thanks to the bombardment, the Japanese took shelter in the caves and the element of surprise was retained. However, several paratroopers were killed when they landed right on top of Japanese positions.

Further complicating things, the plan called for three lifts to get all of the Regimental Combat Team onto the island. Multiple lifts over such small drop zones meant the second lift was jumping into already crowded areas. Some troopers reported that they were more likely to be hit by a fellow jumper or door bundle coming in than by the Japanese.

Although the landings were relatively unopposed, the action soon picked up, especially around an area known as Wheeler Point.

Shortly after landing in the area, Pvt. Lloyd McCarter conducted the first of three heroic actions on The Rock which would earn him the Medal of Honor.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Lloyd McCarter, Medal of Honor recipient.

When his unit came under fire from a Japanese machine gun, McCarter single-handedly rushed 30 yards across the bullet-swept area and destroyed the emplacement with hand grenades.

Two days later, he killed six snipers by himself.

On the night of Feb. 18, McCarter was once again in the thick of the action. In what would come to be known as the Battle of Banzai Point, McCarter attacked the Japanese by himself.

With his unit dealing with a full-on frontal assault by a Japanese Special Landing Force, McCarter noticed a force attempting to flank his position. He moved to an exposed position and engaged them. When his Thompson became unserviceable, he returned to friendly lines to retrieve a BAR. When that became too hot, he discarded it for an M1 Garand. He fired that weapon until the operating rod broke.

As dawn broke and the attack was dissipating, McCarter was shot through the chest. His comrades retrieved him and he was evacuated from the island, credited with killing over 30 Japanese during the attack.

The battle for The Rock would last another eight days before the island was declared secure. With the help of the 34th Infantry, the 503rd was able to seal off or expel the Japanese from the complex of caves and tunnels running throughout Corregidor.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
General MacArthur and members of his staffat a ceremony of the American flag being raised once again on the island of Corregidor. (Photo from National Archives)

The 503rd suffered some 169 men killed in action and another 531 wounded. The 34th suffered 38 killed and 153 wounded. The combined force, known as The Rock Force, inflicted well over 6,000 casualties on the Japanese defenders.

For their daring assault on the island, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and has henceforth been known as “The Rock Regiment.”

General Douglas MacArthur returned to the island on March 7 and ordered the American flag hoisted over the island.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Benedict Arnold created – and sank – an entire navy fleet

Then-Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold was famous in 1776 for his role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and the bold, but ultimately failed, invasion of Quebec. And so when the Patriots had to figure out a way to prevent the counter-invasion of the British from Canada, they turned to the young general with extensive seafaring experience as a trader before the war.


The plan was simple but hard to pull off. The British invasion would rely on water travel because of the lack of roads. So Arnold took on the task of building up the American fleet on the Great Lakes with the goal of delaying the British through the end of the fall and the fighting season.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
(Portrait: Thomas Hart, Public Domain)

The task before Arnold when he assumed command in August 1776 was tough. The British were building a large fleet on the lakes and had the resources to easily construct and arm more ships. But Arnold faced shortages of proper wood, iron, shipbuilders, food, and guns. Nothing crucial.

He went to the construction area at  Skenesborough, New York, and set his men to work. He drafted 300 workers out of nearby rifle units and requested experienced shipbuilders from the East Coast.

But the planned invasion from Canada into America was being bolstered by a formidable British fleet. Prefabricated boats were delivered from England, schooners on the Atlantic were stripped down and moved overland to the Great Lakes, and the 180-ton HMS Inflexible was moved as well.

By the end of both sides’ shipbuilding frenzy, the English were far ahead in naval power. They had more vessels, and those ships were bigger. All the guns on all the ships of the British fleet could hurl 1,100 pounds of steel in a volley from 30 ships. The Americans could only muster 15 ships with a combined volley of 600 pounds, and that power rested in ships less stable and protected.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
The distribution and movement of naval forces at the Battle of Valcour Island. (Map: Boston Public Library)

The British also had many more troops than the American fleet — 2,300 British and Native American fighters against the 500 Americans.

Arnold knew there was no way that his fleet could best the British, but he also knew that he only needed to delay them. The brutal New York winters would stop the invasion in its tracks if the British didn’t reach Fort Ticonderoga before the snows fell thick, they would be forced to wait for Spring.

The ship construction period had already given America a huge boost in the race to run out the clock. The British didn’t know they would have to defeat an American fleet and waited until Oct. 4 to set sail. Arnold led two ships onto Lake Chamberlain as bait for the British on Oct. 11.

His ships were formed up in a narrow channel between the western bank of the Lake Chamberlain and Valcour Island. The British would be forced to move into the channel nearly single file, reducing their fleet’s advantage in numbers.

And America’s first big break came at the onset of the battle. The winds favored the Americans and slowed the British attack. The most powerful ship in the battle, the HMS Inflexible, couldn’t get into firing position for the first few hours, making its huge arsenal of guns impotent.

But America caught its share of bad luck too. The Royal Savage, one of its more powerful schooners, ran aground and became a sitting target for British guns.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
A painting depicts the Battle of Valcour Island. (Painting: National Archives of Canada)

The Americans managed to concentrate their fire on a British schooner and the British were forced to tow it out of the battle. A British gunboat took a shot to the powder magazine and exploded, taking two other ships with it.

Still, the day was obviously lost of the Americans. Their largest ship was burning through the night as another major ship sank. Three ships were heavily damaged including Arnold’s ship, the Congress.

They needed an escape plan, and Arnold proposed one. One of the British ships watching the choke point had placed only a small number of sentries on their decks. So Arnold ordered the fleet to wrap cloth around the oars and then steal slowly through the channel, slipping between the British ships and out into the open lake.

When the sun rose and the British saw that they had been bamboozled, they pursued the Americans with a vengeance. Arnold was forced to sink two small ships that were moving slow due to damage.

As the American ships were overtaken, commanders fought delaying actions or lured the British ships away in a race to buy time for the other Americans. But Arnold knew that the ships would be captured and used against him.

To prevent this he ordered his few remaining vessels — a galley and four gunboats — run aground and set on fire, forming a temporary barrier to British pursuers.

Arnold was able to take his survivors overland to Crown Point, but knew he couldn’t hold it. So he once again ordered the torches out and burned the installation to the ground before taking his troops to Fort Ticonderoga.

While Arnold’s losses in the naval Battle of Valcour Island had been heavy, 200 estimated casualties against an estimated 40 British losses, the delaying action had worked. The massive British host was forced to hunker down for winter and the invasion was delayed long enough for America to raise more forces to meet them.

Then, four years later, Arnold tried to sell out the defenses at West Point because he was a traitorous, petty jerk.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

A bizarrely ironic tale came to light recently in the wake of the publication of an opinion piece written by Doctors Frank K. Butler and John B. Holcomb in the Wall Street Journal on December 20th, 2020. The original opinion piece by Butler and Holcomb (full disclosure: Butler is the father of this author) makes the case for increased tourniquet use in the civilian — i.e., EMS, police, and fire — sector, based on the number of lives tourniquets have saved among U.S. service members in multiple war zones over the past 20 years.

It is a no-brainer for most modern-day EMTs, paramedics, police officers, and firefighters that tourniquets are essential and save lives when applied to life-threatening extremity hemorrhage (arterial bleeding from the arms and legs) to stop the bleeding. However, that fact does not mean that all EMS, police, and fire services field tourniquets widely within their trauma load-outs. Hence, the need for the WSJ opinion piece.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
A tactical operator, part of the Illinois Special Weapons and Tactics team, applies a tourniquet to a mannequin. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Kristina Forst) 

A number of readers responded to the piece, in writing, one of which was published on December 27th in the “Letters” portion of the Opinion section of the paper. That letter is what revealed the hitherto unknown (at least to me) story of the time a tourniquet saved one life and condemned ten times that number to execution. 

The Journal titled the letter “Sometimes the Tourniquet Works All Too Well,” and boy is that an understatement given the details of the story. The letter’s author is Gerald Holmquist, writing from Roseville, CA. He recounts how his fraternity at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s was in need of money and thus occasionally took in boarders at its frat house. He notes that the house was more focused on physics than parties. One such boarder — in 1962 — was a young 20 year-old university student named Rick whom Holmquist describes as a “seldom-bathed alcoholic,” and whom they wanted to boot out soon after he moved in.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
A young “Rick” Ames a few years prior to meeting Holmquist. (WikiMedia Commons)

Holmquist then describes how one night they found a reason to get rid of the malodorous inebriate, as Rick severed an artery while launching his arm through one of the house’s glass windows. Holmquist found Rick laying in a pool of blood, bleeding out, and says that his Boy Scout training kicked in, he put direct pressure on the wound, and then placed a tourniquet on it. Holmquist even went so far as to write the time of tourniquet application in marker on Rick’s forehead. (Well done, sir.)

Holmquist and his fellow frat brothers then managed to get Rick to a local emergency room, and the next day he had packed his stuff, returned his key, and moved out of the frat house. According to Holmquist, they all forgot about him until roughly 30 years later, when Rick was arrested — in 1994 — for committing espionage against the United States in the waning days of the Cold War.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Aldrich Ames is arrested outside his home in Virginia (Image courtesy of the FBI)

Related: THE WWII SPY ROOTS OF THE PHRASE ‘SECRET SQUIRREL’

The boozy and fetid boarder, and former University of Chicago student, turned out to be none other than Rick Ames. When he was exposed as a spy for the Russians inside the CIA, where his father had gotten him a job soon after he left the University of Chicago, Rick became world-famous by his full name, Aldrich Ames.

Ames started spying for the Russians in 1985 and soon afterward, provided to them the names of ten top-level CIA and FBI Soviet sources (Russians spying for the United States). The Russians quickly wrapped up the sources, crushing American intelligence networks on the Soviets, and killing a number of the Russian spies. Ames would go on to expose roughly one hundred Russian agents (assets) spying for America over approximately eight years.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Aldrich “Rick” Ames’ mug shot. (FBI)

In all, Aldrich Ames was paid nearly $5 Million for spying on his own country, and the intelligence information he provided to the Russians led directly to the deaths of at least ten Russians working on behalf of America.

As you can see, Holmquist probably regrets that a tourniquet worked so well on Rick Ames. Had he let Ames bleed out, ten more men might have escaped execution at the hands of the Soviet Union, and America might not have suffered such a severe blow to its intelligence operations against the USSR. Ironic, indeed. 

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Civil War vets wanted to invade Canada to liberate Ireland

In the years following the American Civil War, Canada was still very much a possession of the British Empire. As such, it had a number of official fortifications and other important areas along its border with the United States. One of those was Fort Erie, directly across the Niagara from the American city of Buffalo, New York. In June 1866, some 850 men crossed the Niagara from Buffalo, intent on capturing the fort.

They were Irishmen, and they were going to conquer Canada to free their home country.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Irish immigrants flowed into the United States in droves following the Acts of Union that saw British domination of Ireland since the early 1800s. The Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s also saw a huge emigration of Irish people to the United States. By 1860, there were more than 1.6 million people of Irish descent who called themselves American – and upwards of 175,000 of them were about to serve in the Union Army.

The Irish made-up 40 percent of foreign-born enlistments in the Civil War, and were 17 percent of the overall Union force. When these battle-hardened veterans returned home after the war, many of them were headed to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England. It was there that Irish National leaders were waiting to use the veterans’ new talent for combat.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

To be fair, when this plan was hatched, there were upwards of 10,000 Fenians.

Called the Fenian Brotherhood, its original aim was to send money, arms, and supplies to Irish rebels in Ireland via Irish émigrés living in the U.S. Many in the movement were soon convinced that liberating Ireland through a direct uprising was impossible, so they decided to step up their game a bit. If the Irish couldn’t mount an invasion of Ireland, then they would mount an invasion of Canada, the nearest British-held country and trade it for Irish independence.

T.W. Sweeny a former Union general who also served in the Mexican War hatched a three-pronged plan to invade Canada, set up an Irish government-in-exile, and pressure Britain to release Ireland to the Irish. It called for multiple incursions into Ontario in an effort to draw the main British force out of Quebec. With that done, the main Fenian force would invade Quebec, cutting off lines of communication and supply.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Noncommissioned officers of the 10th Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, circa 1870.

On June 1, 1850, a force of Irish-American members of the Fenian Brotherhood landed in Ontario and planted the Irish flag. They tore up railroads and cut the telegraph wires, effectively cutting Fort Erie off from the rest of Canada. Then, 600 Fenians marched westward. At the same time, the commander of British forces in Canada activated upwards of 22,000 troops to put the insurrection down. While the larger force formed up, 850 men under Lt. Col. Alfred Booker were dispatched to pin the Irish down and keep them from wreaking any more havoc.

The two forces met at Ridgeway in Ontario, Canada. It was the first time an all-Canadian force was led by a Canadian commander. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the Fenians were well-armed and skilled fighters, having just braved the battlefields of the American Civil War. The Canadians were soon reinforced, and the superior numbers caused the Fenians to retreat.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

No. 5 Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles.

The Fenians were repulsed elsewhere along their proposed lines of attack. Having assumed that Irish Canadians would join the uprising, they were surprised at how the Canadians responded to their invasion. By the time British forces mounted a full response, many of the Fenians had retreated back across the river, the United States Navy was stopping Fenian barges from bringing reinforcements, and the U.S. declared total neutrality in Canadian affairs.

There would be more Fenian uprisings in later years, but for the time being, the push to trade Canada for Ireland would not come to pass.

Articles

At the beginning of the Civil War, most surgeons didn’t know how to treat gunshot wounds

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’


While more soldiers died of disease than from battle injuries during the Civil War, a three-page document written by P.J. Horwitz, the surgeon general of the Union’s Navy, proves that many members of the medical corps had little idea of how to treat a gunshot wound at the war’s start. Part of the online exhibition “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War,” put together by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, Slate shared a transcript of Horowitz’s “rudimentary advice” in regards to handling injuries caused by bullets on the battlefield.

If the wound is produced by a musket ball, the patient will generally first feel a slight tingling in the part, and on looking at the seat of injury perceive a hole smaller than the projected ball, generally smooth lined, inverted and the part more or less swelled, and on examining further, if the ball has made its exit there would be found another opening, which unlike the other will have its margin everted and ragged.
Should the patient present radical symptoms of injury, one of the first things to be done is to stop the hemorrhage, if there be any, and then carefully examine the wound to see that no foreign body is lodged there in, and then after bathing the flesh in cold water, apply to the wound a piece of lint on which may be spread a little cerate, and attach it to the parts by adhesive or if the surgeon prefers it he can dip a little lint in the patient’s blood and in the same manner apply it to the part, and then put the part at rest, and treat the local and general symptoms as they arrive.

Head over to Slate to read Horwitz’s full treatise.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The northernmost Confederate attack was a raid on Vermont

We hear a lot about how Gettysburg was as far north as the Confederate Army could get, while that may be true for the Army of Northern Virginia, it wasn’t true for the entire Confederate armed forces. The actual northernmost fighting took place in northern Vermont, near the U.S. border with Canada.

You can’t get much further than that.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Vermonters were not expecting this either, trust me.

Although the Confederates did make it to Gettysburg and were stopped, there were many other places in the United States, well north of Gettysburg. During the Gettysburg campaign, another Confederate expedition was making its way up through Tennessee and Kentucky, then into Indiana and Ohio. Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan led a raid that was supposed to divert men and resources from resisting the main southern thrust northward, the one at Gettysburg.

Morgan led his men, less than 3,000, through Cincinnati, Columbus, and Steubenville Ohio, only to be stopped by Union troops in Salineville, Ohio. Ambrose Burnside and his army of 40,000 relentlessly pursued Morgan up through the northern states. After they were captured, they managed to escape, retreating to Cincinnati and into Kentucky, where they took advantage of the state’s neutral status.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

A handful of the raiders after the incident.

One native Kentuckian, Bennett H. Young, was captured at Salineville and escaped but instead of sneaking down the Ohio River and into Kentucky, he moved North instead. He slipped into British-controlled, Confederate-sympathizing Canada and hatched his plan to continue fighting the Union from the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.

He decided that diverting Union troops from attacking the South was still the best way forward, so he devised a plan that served that end while funding his own expeditions: raiding Northern border towns. His first stop would be St. Albans, Vermont, just a few miles from the U.S.-Canada border.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The raiders wanted to burn the whole town, but their accelerant didn’t work as planned.

Young’s men moved into St. Albans piecemeal, coming in groups of two to three every few days, and checking into the local hotels. By Oct. 19, 1864, 21 Confederate cavalrymen had made it to the sleepy Vermont town. Once ready, they simultaneously robbed the town’s three banks, fought off any resistance, forced others to swear loyalty to the Confederate States of America, and burned someone’s shed. They also made off with the modern equivalent of .3 million before escaping into Canada.

The United States demanded the extradition of the soldiers, but since the men had acted as official CSA soldiers, the Canadians would not turn them over to the Americans.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The GOER Truck was a multipurpose vehicle ahead of its time

Today, the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT, is one of the military’s most important but unheralded vehicles. This eight-wheeled behemoth has been around since 1982, but its highly-capable predecessor saw action well before the HEMTT hit production lines.

That predecessor was the GOER family of vehicles. GOER is short for Go-ability with Overall Economy and Reliability. These four-wheeled vehicles had an articulating front section (which allowed it to make sharper turns) and amphibious capabilities (it used its wheels to propel through water), making it extremely versatile. These vehicles could operate in front-wheel drive while on the road, but could shift to four-wheel drive for the paths less traveled.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Two of the unique features of the M520 Goer are on display: Its amphibious capacilbity, and its articulated structure.

(US Army)

The GOER was first developed in the early 1960s and saw some field tests in Germany and Vietnam. Four versions of this vehicle emerged: The baseline M520, an eight-ton truck; the M533, a wrecker (really, a big tow truck); the M559, a fuel tanker; and the M877, an eight-ton truck with a crane.

After yielding outstanding test results in Vietnam in 1971, the Army placed a production order with Caterpillar to create 1,300 trucks — a mix of the four variants mentioned above. But its run would prove short. By 1976, a number of the vehicle’s shortcomings came to light. One of the most notable was the lack of suspension, which made the ride very difficult. The GOER was also just too big, and there were safety issues with the way the front part of the trucks oscillated.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The GOER family of vehicles also included a wrecker.

(US Army)

To address these problems but maintain the capabilities of this versatile truck, the DOD sought a replacement. Thus, the HEMTT family of vehicles emerged. Most of the GOERs never saw the civilian market, but were instead scrapped.

See this vehicle be put through its paces in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZZqx0iptnM

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way subs used to communicate

In the early 1900s the navies of the world were quickly expanding their submarine fleets and with them the technology that they used to fight.


One problem submarines faced as they matured was how to communicate underwater. Radio communication was only a couple decades old and radio waves barely transmit underwater. To allow submarines to communicate with naval forts, each other, and surface vessels, the U.S. Navy tested an improvised “violin” for submarines that allowed communication at ranges of up to five miles.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ferrer Dalmau

The violins had a single string stretched between two large, metal rods connected to the hull of the submarine. A wheel with a rough edges spun in close proximity to the string. A Morse-code operator could tap a button that pressed the spinning wheel to the string, sending a vibration through the string, the rods, and then the submarine hull itself. This vibration would continue through the water to underwater microphones on ships and coastal installations. The tests began in 1913 with three violins being installed on three ships. There’s no sign that these violins were ever used in combat.

Today, submarines and sub killers hunt using sonar, so sound-emitting devices like the submarine violin would be too dangerous to use. Instead, modern subs use specialized antennas and very low frequency radio waves to communicate.

NOW: Here’s what life is like aboard the largest US Navy submarine

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why you don’t hear about the German Navy on D-Day

Think of D-Day. What do you see? Probably the U.S. Navy pounding the shores with artillery as Army soldiers landed in boats driven by Coast Guardsmen as German soldiers rained artillery and machine gun fire while Luftwaffe pilots bombed and strafed the landing zones.

Notably absent: The German Navy. You almost certainly have no idea what the German Navy was doing during the invasion, and that’s because they weren’t doing much.


D-Day: Where was the Kriegsmarine? – Normandy Landings (Neptune / Overlord)

www.youtube.com

The problems for the Kriegsmarine dated to well before the war. In fact, a lot of it dates back to the formation of the Earth as well as the last few mass extinctions. Germany doesn’t have a lot of natural resources, especially the ones necessary for large ship construction.

Germany had the iron, but most of its coal is low-quality brown coal, and their oil and natural gas reserves are very limited. Worse, they have very limited port access, so what ships they do have can be fairly easily contained with a blockade. Because of these strategic and industrial limitations, Germany has historically maintained a navy smaller and weaker than its rivals. Germany’s navy was so weak in World War II that they even pressed a sailing ship into active service.

But Germany did have a navy in World War II, and its U-boats were small but lethal, so they still should’ve had an impact at D-Day, right?

Well, they could have, but there were more issues. Britain and the U.S. had gone all out to convince German high command that D-Day at Normandy was a feint, creating an entire fake army helmed by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. that would supposedly land later at a deepwater port on the French coast.

So, many of Germany’s D-Day decisions were made with the belief that a second, larger invasion could be coming somewhere else. And they didn’t want to risk their minuscule naval forces on what could be an Allied feint. Worse, the Allies had learned about how to kill U-boats on the surface in the Atlantic. So, any underwater boats actually deployed would be extremely vulnerable.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

All these ships, none of them German.

(U.S. Army)

So, the submarines couldn’t deploy in broad daylight as D-Day got underway, knowing that any subs spotted leaving the safety of the harbor would be quickly hunted down and killed. One group of three torpedo ships did risk Allied wrath by slipping out to attack at Sword beach, successfully sinking a Norwegian destroyer.

That night, U-boats attempted to slip out and disturb the ongoing landings at Normandy, but they were quickly repulsed with two sunk and four heavily damaged. The Allies had sub-hunting planes that could detect German subs on the surface with radar, even in the middle of a dark night.

So, only U-boats with snorkels — those that didn’t need to surface — were viable. And Germany only had 14 left within range of the beaches. That’s partially because D-Day came in 1944, 13 months after the U.S. and Britain had savaged the German vessels in Black May.

So, for weeks, German U-boats were pinned in, and most of the German Navy was similarly limited. Eventually, they broke out and were able to inflict losses on Allied landing and logistics forces. But only eight Allied ships were lost to U-boats off the coast of Normandy at the cost of 20 German U-boats.

The surface story was similar. The Kriegsmarine was simply too small and too underpowered to take on the Allied fleet, and so it was doomed to failure.

Not that it was a bad thing since, you know, they were trying to stop the invading force that would later liberate the concentration camps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How German POWs staged their greatest World War I escape

Today, Sutton Bonington campus, part of the University of Nottingham, houses the schools of bioscience and veterinary medicine. But a century ago, during World War I, it was home to a prisoner of war (PoW) camp for German military personnel captured by the British on the Western front. And it was the site of a great escape, when Germans managed to flee the camp on Sept. 25, 1917.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the government took over buildings and sites around the country to convert into PoW camps. Sutton Bonington was a group of buildings completed in 1915 for the Midland Dairy Institute, an agricultural college, but it was taken over by the War Office before the institute’s staff and students could move in. Barbed wire fencing and some additional huts were added to the site and around 600 German military officers moved in.


German officers who were made prisoners of war, by contrast with ordinary soldiers and sailors, were not allowed to work. Many became extremely bored, and sought to relieve the tedium by playing sports such as football and tennis, putting on concerts and plays, and planning how to escape. The preferred escape option was to tunnel under the barbed wire, and to disappear into the countryside beyond.

Two attempts to tunnel out at Sutton Bonington failed, but the third succeeded, and at 1.30am on Sept. 25, 1917, 22 men slipped, slithered and pulled their way along a tunnel, which was less than a metre high. They emerged into a field of turnips, and were hidden from the guards in the sentry posts by a ridge running through a nearby field. It helped their cause that the moon had set before they started, that the search lights were out because of concerns about Zeppelin raids, and that it was not raining.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The main administration block at Sutton Bonington campus. It was used as a prisoner of war camp for German officers between 1916-19.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

In terms of simple numbers, no other breakout was as successful. Usually only two or three men were involved with a tunnel project. The 22 from Sutton Bonington made it the largest breakout in Britain of World War I.

Best laid plans

The men planned to split into groups of four, preferably with an English speaker in each one, and to head for different ports along the east coast. They had maps and a compass with them, as well as food supplies which had arrived in the camp from Germany the previous day. The absconders hoped to stow away on board a vessel passing through the English channel, and return to Germany, re-join their regiment and re-engage with the war.

The breakout was discovered at 4.30am when a policeman patrolling the village of Plumtree came upon Herman Genest walking alone but wearing a German officer’s uniform. He arrested him, took him to the nearest police station, and from there saw him returned to the camp at Sutton Bonington. Genest had been free for approximately three hours.

His arrest led to a roll call at Sutton Bonington which confirmed that 22 men were missing. All police, special constables, and other groups concerned with law and order in the area were ordered from their beds to find the Germans.

Within hours they were reeled in. My own research into the episode has uncovered that three of the German men, claiming to be seeking work in one of Nottingham’s munitions factories, were arrested at Trent Bridge. Two more, including the leader Otto Thelan, were arrested at Tollerton at 11am, and two others later in the day. Also arrested that day was Karl von Müller, a German naval hero from the early days of the war, who was found by children when he was blackberrying at Tollerton.

The rest were picked up over the ensuing days with the last four German officers captured at Brimington Woods, near Chesterfield. A police sergeant found them on September, 30, “and immediately upon being challenged they admitted their identity”, according to a report a few days later in the Derby Daily Telegraph.

Getting out was unlikely

The experiences of these men were typical of other German prisoners who tried to escape during World War I. They were expected to wear their uniforms in camp, but this made them conspicuous if they managed to escape. They had to walk because catching trains was too problematic, and they normally travelled at night and hid in barns and hay stacks during the day. They carried food, but could struggle to find enough liquid, and if they reached the coast there was no guarantee of a passage across the Channel.

Escape was a romantic ideal rather than a rational expectation. Gunter Pluschow, who escaped from another PoW camp at Donington Hall, in Leicestershire, was the only German to make it home in World War I, largely because he managed to adopt a disguise and stow away on board a cargo ship at Harwich.

The Sutton Bonington camp was used for PoWs until February 1919 when those remaining were moved to Oswestry in Shropshire. The site was then cleared and cleaned, including the removal of the huts and barbed wire, and returned to the Midland Dairy Institute, which formally opened in October 1919. In 1946 the institute joined the University of Nottingham as the faculty of agriculture.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

Articles

That time a guy jumped out of a plane at 18,000 feet with no chute — and survived

On the evening of March 24, 1944, a Royal Air Force airman jumped out of his damaged bomber without a parachute.


Not only did he survive, but he landed with little more than bumps and bruises.

His name was Nicholas Alkemade. Or should we say, the “indestructible” Nicholas Alkemade. Born Dec. 10, 1922, Alkemade was a rear gunner on a four-engine Avro Lancaster its crew had nicknamed “Werewolf.”

In March 1944, the crew was on a bombing mission over Berlin, which went without incident. But on their way back to England, the bomber caught on fire after being razed by machine-gun fire from a German fighter. The order came from the Werewolf’s pilot to abandon the crippled bomber, but Alkemade wasn’t wearing his parachute, since the gunner’s area was too cramped for it to be worn all the time.

When he tried pulling his chute out of storage, it was in flames. The plane was going down and he had few options.

“I had no doubts at all that this was the end of the line,” he told Leicester Mercury years later. “The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry or jump to my death. I decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things. I backed out of the turret and somersaulted away.”

So out he went, headed from 18,000 feet above the Earth to the ground at 120 miles per hour. He lost consciousness during the descent, which would have been the end of this story. Except, three hours later, Alkemade — now safely lying on the ground — opened his eyes.

The RAF Museum picks up the story:

He was lying on snowy ground in a small pine wood. Above him the stars were still visible, only this time they were framed by the edges of the hole he had smashed through the tree canopy. Assessing himself, Alkemade found that he was remarkably intact. In addition to the burns and cuts to the head and thigh, all received in the aircraft, he was suffering only bruising and a twisted knee. Not a single bone had been broken or even fractured. Both of his flying boots had disappeared, probably torn from his feet as he unconsciously struck the tree branches. Being of no further use, Alkemade discarded his parachute harness in the snow.

Though his incredible survival arguably made him the luckiest man in the world, his luck soon changed. He began to blow on his emergency whistle, which got the attention of German civilians nearby. After he was taken to a local infirmary, he was interrogated by the Gestapo the next day.

He told them what happened, and like anyone else would, they basically called bullsh-t.

“You say you fell from a plane, but you have no parachute,” the Gestapo interrogator asked him, according to the Mercury. His interrogators accused him of burying it and being a spy, until he told them to find his discarded harness, along with the crashed aircraft that was nearby, according to the RAF Museum.

The Germans investigated and found he was legit. They even gave him a certificate stating, “It has been investigated and corroborated by the German authorities that the claim of Sergeant Alkemade, No. 1431537, is true in all respects, namely, that he has made a descent from 18,000 feet without a parachute and made a safe landing without injuries, the parachute having been on fire in the aircraft. He landed in deep snow among fir trees.”

Alkemade spent his next 14 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in Poland, and returned to England after the war ended. He died in 1991.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

December 1969 was not a very merry Christmastime for many American families. The war in Vietnam was ramping up and the draft lottery was held for the first time. 366 blue capsules were drawn, each containing a day of the year. Each calendar date was assigned a number based on draw order. The lower the draft number, the higher the possibility was of being drafted.


soldiers who were chosen in the vietnam draft

Related: This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

Conscription in the United States was a common practice, especially during wartime. It had been a part of American life since the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1975 that the draft disappeared and the U.S. military turned into an all-volunteer force.

But back in 1970, one Ph.D. student in computer planning saw the “random” Vietnam draft lottery as flawed — mathematically flawed. According to a New York Times article from the period, he wasn’t the only one.

Mathematicians and statisticians challenged the legality of the process, as it did not produce a truly random result. As the Times’ article points out, hundreds of thousands of men were already preparing for service in Vietnam.

The Nixon White House and the Selective Service System claimed they made a great effort to produce a random result, one that was as fair as possible. Pentagon experts, at the time, estimated that anyone with a number over 200 was unlikely to get drafted.

Soldiers from vietnam draft

Experts said the resulting monthly average number could have been predicted if the capsules containing the dates early in the months were on the bottom and the later days were at the top and the capsules were not adequately mixed — which is exactly what happened.

David Stodolosky, the aforementioned Ph.D. student, is the one who filed a suit against Selective Service, based on the findings that the drawing wasn’t truly random. His lawyers argued that President Nixon’s orders called for a random draft and that wasn’t what they got.

His argument was that later birthdates were drawn much earlier than others and, thus, were more likely to be drafted for wartime service.

The student tried to get an injunction against the government pressing men into service until the draft lottery process was truly randomized — a task as simple as attaching numbers to dates using a random number table and then sorting them.

A judge refused the injunction. Besides, a live lottery made for a much better show.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the RAF bombed a POW camp with an artificial leg

On August 19, 1941, a British bomber taking part in a raid against Germany flew over a prisoner of war camp in St. Omer, France and dropped its lightest — but possibly most historic — payload of the war: a wooden case filled with bandages, socks, straps, and an artificial leg.

The odd bombing mission was to support a particular pilot on the ground, Douglas Bader, a Battle of Britain hero and double-leg amputee.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Douglas Bader and other members of No. 242 Squadron pose in front of nose art depicting a quick kick to Hitler’s butt.

(Royal Air Force photo by S. A. Devon)

Bader’s heroic story starts in 1931 when he boldly asserted that he could fly a new aircraft but, while attempting a risky maneuver near the ground with it, crashed the plane and lost both of his legs. The Royal Air Force drummed him out as invalid, but he kept pressing to come back.

When World War II broke out, Bader finally got his chance and immediately made the best of it, getting re-certified to fly and an assignment to the No. 19 Squadron. He pushed for sending more planes up against the Germans more of the time, and was sent against the Luftwaffe over Dunkirk in 1940.

Success there led to his involvement in the Battle of France where he was given command of No. 242 Squadron and increasingly large air missions. Bader was credited with 20 confirmed aerial kills and two shared by August, 1941. He became something of a hero to the British public as wartime propaganda related the heroics of “Tin-Legs Bader” and other fliers of No. 242.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

A Messerschmitt 109 like the one Bader shot down on the day that he was downed — August 9, 1941.

(Kogo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

But his last kill came at a cost. On August 9, he shot down a Messerschmidt-109F, but his own plane was damaged in the fight. Reports at the time indicated that he had collided with another German plane, but later investigations posit that he might have been a victim of friendly fire.

Either way, Bader bailed out of his plane, losing his right prosthetic in the process, and parachuted to the ground. He was knocked out upon landing, and woke up to German soldiers removing his parachute harness.

The German doctor assigned to check on him thought, at first, that Bader had suffered an amputation in the crash, but quickly realized both his mistake and the fact that he was treating a British war hero.

The Germans, to their credit, immediately tried to make him as comfortable as a full-bodied person in the prisoner of war camp, recovering and repairing his leg as best they could and letting Britain know that he had been captured and needed a replacement right leg.

Bader, to his credit, immediately attempted to use his repaired leg to escape, forcing the Germans to take his legs every night to prevent further escape attempts. Bader would try again three more times over the course of the war.

But, between the first escape attempt and the other three, the RAF put together a plan to get Bader a new leg. Germany made an offer of safe passage and landing for a single plane to deliver it, but Britain worried that the Germans would use it for a burst of positive publicity.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Instead, they put together a fairly genius plan. See, Bader had been shot down during a large bombing raid popular with the RAF at the time. Bombers flew towards their targets escorted by a large number of fighters. The German planes would take off to intercept, but would be forced to dogfight with the fighters.

This created a window where there was little or no real resistance in the air to smaller bomber formations. Typically, this was used to sneak a few bombers in on low-altitude runs against high-priority targets. But on August 19, 1941, the British aviators used this window to fly over the prisoner of war camp at St. Omer, France where Bader was being held.


The plane dropped its single package with the leg and other supplies into the town with a note attached:

To the German flight commander of the Luftwaffe at St. Omer. Please deliver to the undermentioned address this package for Wing Command Bader, RAF prisoner of war, St. Omer, containing artificial leg, bandages, socks, straps.

Bader was sent to the infamous Colditz Castle after his fourth escape attempt, but survived the war. He advocated for disabled rights the rest of his life, efforts for which he received a knighthood in 1976. He died in 1982 of an apparent heart attack.

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