The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton's 3rd army in World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

Six weeks after more than a million American, British, and Canadian troops invaded Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley launched Operation Cobra. The mission was to break out from the stalemate where the Allies were wedged in a bridgehead roughly 50 miles wide and 20 miles deep. At the front of the charge through southern Normandy was Lt. Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. Early on, with Patton covering more than 80 miles a day in pursuit of the retreating Germans, a lack of logistics created what war correspondent Ernie Pyle called a “tactician’s hell and a quartermaster’s purgatory.”

“On both fronts an acute shortage of supplies — that dull subject again! — governed all our operations,” Bradley wrote in his autobiography, A General’s Life. “Some twenty-eight divisions were advancing across France and Belgium. Each division ordinarily required 700-750 tons a day — a total daily consumption of about 20,000 tons.”

Prior to D-Day, Allied aircraft had destroyed the French railway system to prevent German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel from supplying his troops along the French coastline. Since bridges, trains, and railroads were damaged or destroyed and the Germans had controlled the ports of northern France and Belgium, Allied commanders put forward an alternative solution. 

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
African American soldiers load ammunition crates into Red Ball Express trucks. Photo courtesy of the First Division Museum.

In August 1944, Brig. Gen. Ewart G. Plank along with other Allied commanders developed a dedicated supply chain using a convoy system to bring logistical support to the front lines. “Let it never be said that [a lack of supplies] stopped Patton when the Germans couldn’t,” Plank famously said in his declaration.

This convoy system became known as the Red Ball Express, or the Red Ball Line. It was named after an old railroad term used in the United States for priority express trains — other trains had to yield to the trains that had the red ball painted on them. The Red Ball Express highways were two parallel one-way routes open only to military traffic. The northern route was used for delivering supplies, and the southern route was used for returning convoys that often transported German prisoners of war.

Although some convoys had makeshift gun trucks with .50-caliber machine guns, largely these convoys drove unprotected along the 700-mile route. These trucks were at risk of being shot to pieces by enemy aircraft, blown up by land mines in the road, or shot at by enemy patrols. Soldiers would put sandbags on the truck floors for an additional layer of protection.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
This French-language poster informed civilians not to use roads reserved exclusively for the Red Ball Express. After their successful June 6 landing, Allied forces broke out of the Normandy region in early August 1944. American forces were rapidly advancing, burning through 800,000 gallons of fuel each day. Supplying the front-line troops quickly became a serious logistical issue. Army leadership established the Red Ball Express to ensure the advancing US Army, including the 1st Infantry Division, had enough supplies to press forward. The Red Ball Express consisted of 6,000 vehicles that moved 12,500 tons of supplies per day. Photo courtesy of the First Division Museum. Composite by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

“We had to drive slowly at night because we had to use ‘cat eyes,’ and you could hardly see,” said Red Ball Express driver James Rookard in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1999. Masking narrow slits onto truck headlights reduced the output to a dim beam to keep convoys from being spotted. “If you turned on your headlights, the Germans could bomb the whole convoy. So we had to feel our way down the road.”

Some 6,000 Army trucks carried food rations, gasoline, ammunition, and supplies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 82 days straight. Over 75% of the Red Ball drivers were African Americans.

“The Red Ball Line is the lifeline between combat and supply,” Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in a message sent to officers and enlisted men from the Red Ball Express in October 1944. “To it falls the tremendous task of getting vital supplies from ports and depots to the combat troops, when and where such supplies are needed, material without which the armies might fail.” 

The Red Ball Express was vital to Patton’s success, and in just three months of operations they brought 412,000 tons of supplies to the front. In 10 months, Patton and the 3rd Army raced through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, to victory.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How 9/11 changed the way the Coast Guard protects the US

With the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the War on Terror set in motion dramatic changes to the Coast Guard. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, U.S. ports, waterways, and coastlines were protected primarily by Coast Guard boat stations and cutters. Immediately following September 11, Coast Guard resources were reallocated to fill the additional maritime security functions required in a post-9/11 environment.


In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) to protect the nation’s ports and waterways from terrorist attacks. The MTSA provided for a Coast Guard maritime security force to function as part of the Department of Homeland Security‘s layered strategy to protect the nation’s seaports and waterways. That same year, the Coast Guard began forming Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs), supporting the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission and providing non-compliant vessel boarding capability for service missions. Today, there are 11 MSST teams whose specialties include waterside security, maritime law enforcement and K-9 explosives detection units. MSST assignments have included military force protection, United Nations General Assemblies, national political conventions, international economic summits, hurricane response efforts and major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Cutter Tahoma deployed to New York Harbor on Sept. 11, 2001, and smoke emanating from the remains of the World Trade Towers.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

In 2004, in order to fully address the service’s congressionally mandated Maritime Homeland Security responsibilities, Coast Guard leadership merged Chesapeake, Virginia’s MSST-91102 with Tactical Law Enforcement Team-North to form a new maritime counter-terrorism response capability. Originally designated the Security Response Team One (SRT-1), and then renamed the Enhanced-MSST, the unit was formally established in 2006 as the Maritime Security Response Team. In 2013, the service began forming a second MSRT on the West Coast by transforming San Diego’s MSST-91109 into an MSRT. In 2017, the service officially changed MSST-91109 into MSRT-West so that there now exists an MSRT-West and the MSRT-East in Chesapeake.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Members of a Maritime Safety and Security Team during fast-rope training from an Air National Guard helicopter.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The MSRTs maintain a ready alert force to support Coast Guard operational commanders and Department of Defense combatant commanders for both short-notice emergent operations as well as planned security events. Examples of MSRT support include subject matter expertise for high-threat security incidents, foreign government law enforcement and security training, national special security events, and a variety of contingency and disaster relief operation support options, including force protection, robust tactical medicine capabilities, and forward reconnaissance and information gathering capabilities. Recent operations have included presidential inaugurations, boarding operations for U.S. Navy task forces, NATO summits and United Nations General Assemblies.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Maritime Safety and Security Team members deployed to Houston with a punt boat during Hurricane Harvey rescue operations.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

In 2007, the service stood-up the Deployable Operations Group (DOG) to oversee Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF), such as MSRTs, MSSTs, Port Security Units, National Strike Force teams, Regional Dive Locker personnel and Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs). Later, the service decommissioned the DOG and, in 2013, area commands re-assumed operational and tactical control of DSFs, such as the MSSTs and MSRTs.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Members of the Maritime Security and Response Team during 2015 nighttime training operations.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The 2001 terrorist attacks reshaped the Coast Guard, including new homeland security units. The service’s response to 9/11 demonstrated its flexibility and relevance to homeland security and rapid response requirements. Moreover, a variety of new units, like the MSSTs and MSRTs, emerged as part of the Coast Guard’s greatest organizational transformation since World War II.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

Related: This WW2 pilot acquired a massive advantage after crashing

The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”

Also Read: This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

6 ways the year 1968 traumatized America

There are going to be a lot of significant 50-year anniversaries in 2018. This is because 1968 was probably the most tumultuous year in American history since the Civil War. To this day, we still haven’t fully recovered as a country.


The tumult began immediately. Americans were buffeted by watching the Prague Spring roll over Czechoslovakia with the election of reformist Alexander Dubcek on January 5th. He instituted many meaningful reforms that spelled the end of Communism in the country. But the hopes of a peaceful collapse of the Iron Curtain were crushed by August, when Soviet and Eastern Bloc tanks rolled over the same ground.

That was only the beginning. Americans orbited the moon for the first time, Star Trek aired the first interracial kiss, and African-American athletes in the Mexico City Summer Olympics made the most political statement in the history of the games.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

The captured crew of the Pueblo.

1. The USS Pueblo is captured by North Korea

The Pueblo was a Navy Signals Intelligence ship. On January 23rd, she was attacked and boarded by North Koreans in international waters. But Pueblo’s crew didn’t go down without a fight. As the ship attempted to evade capture and destroy captured intel, it took two North Korean subchasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG fighters to stop Pueblo. One U.S. sailor was killed and 83 others were captured and held for the next 355 days. They were beaten and used as propaganda tools the entire time.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, shoots Vietcong officer Nguyen Van Lem, also known as Bay Lop, on a Saigon street on Feb. 1, 1968.

(Photo by Eddie Adams)

2. The Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam

The U.S. was fully engaged in the Vietnam War by 1968 and, although there was evidence of a coming attack, it was not really suspected to come during the Tet holiday. At midnight on January 30th, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces assaulted some 100 towns and cities, catching American and South Vietnamese troops completely by surprise. The next day, they hit the U.S. embassy in Saigon. Although most losses were quickly recaptured, the ancient capital of Hué was held for a full month.

The Tet Offensive, while a technically a battlefield failure, shook much faith in the Americans’ ability to win the war, including reporter and “Most Trusted Man in America,” Walter Cronkite. In February, the execution of Viet Cong Nguyễn Văn Lém by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese police chief, as captured by famed photographer Eddie Adams, further turned the U.S. against the war.

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3. President Johnson did not seek re-election

Johnson soundly beat Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war candidacy in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire. But just a few days later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy and the Democrats were split between pro-war and anti-war Democrats, along with segregationist Democrats from the South. Johnson, unable to unite the party and concerned he wouldn’t survive another term, announced he would not seek another term as president on March 31st.

The president was right about uniting the party. Divided Democrats did not rally to their candidate Hubert Humphrey’s cause and Richard Nixon won the election.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

President Lyndon B. Johnson meeting with King in the White House Cabinet Room, 1966

4. Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot and killed

The famed Southern preacher and civil rights leader was killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th. Riots erupted in major American cities, some lasting for days. His assassin, James Earl Ray, was a fugitive from justice who escaped the Missouri State Penitentiary. Ray was apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport on June 8th.

During the ensuing riots, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, The Fair Housing Act, into law.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Photo by Boris Yaro for the Los Angeles Times)

5. Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel

Kennedy, fresh from his win in the June 4th California primary election, just finished addressing supporters at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. As he walked through the hotel’s kitchen, he was shaking hands with staff members and other supporters when Sirhan Sirhan rushed in and repeatedly shot him with a .22-caliber pistol. He died of his wounds the next day. Sirhan’s motive was Kennedy’s pro-Israel views.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

Police and demonstrators clash near the Conrad Hilton Hotel during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

(Bettmann Archive – Getty Images)

6. Democratic Convention protests become a battle with police

From August 22-30, Democrats met to nominate Hubert Humphrey as their candidate for president. Outside, some 10,000 protestors descended upon Chicago’s streets. Mayor Richard Daley met them with 23,000 policemen in riot gear and National Guardsmen. At 3:30pm, police moved to arrest a man who lowered the American flag in Grant Park and began to beat him. The crowd responded by throwing rocks, concrete, and food at them. Violence spread throughout the area and America decided to vote for Richard Nixon.

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This POW led over 3,000 guerrillas after escaping the Bataan Death March

Staff Sgt. Ray C. Hunt was a mechanic in the Army Air Corps when the Japanese surprise attack across the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1941, dragged him into World War II.


He was soon captured, escaped the Bataan Death March that killed thousands, and then led guerrilla forces against the Japanese for the rest of the war.

Hunt is one of history’s true reluctant heroes. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 partially to avoid duty in the infantry if the war in Europe eventually swept up the United States. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant as a mechanic and was an expert in the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
In the first days of the war, Staff Sgt. Ray C. Hunt was a mechanic on Curtiss P-40 Warhawks like this one. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

When the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, Hunt’s base in the Philippines was hit just a few hours later. Because Hunt was west of the International Date Line, his base experienced the attack in the early hours of December 8.

The mechanic and other members of his unit were in the field sleeping in foxholes when the attack began, but still suffered losses as bombs and rounds from aircraft pelted their positions. For troops in the Philippines, that wasn’t the end of the attack. The Imperial Japanese followed up air attacks with amphibious landings and invasion.

America defaulted to its old War Plan Orange in the Philippines which called for a fierce defense of Bataan Peninsula. Hunt and others created a hidden airfield in the jungle and recovered their planes which flew missions against Japan. But the defense was doomed from the start by a lack of true combat troops and the decision not to reinforce the defenders.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Prisoners on the march from Bataan to the prison camp. Very few who took part in the march survived the war. (U.S. National Archives)

The Japanese launched a Death March to move captured Americans to prison camps, and many U.S. service members died in the forced march so brutal that its organizer was executed for war crimes. Luckily, Hunt and a few others were able to escape the march alive.

In the jungle, Hunt recruited a small group of fighters and began operating under Lt. Robert Lapham, another American turned Filipino guerrilla leader. As the war ground on, the resistance in the Philippines spent most of its time gathering intelligence and moving constantly, though they did launch harassing attacks when possible.

Hunt was promoted to captain by the guerrillas and given command of a large group of fighters which eventually grew to 3,400. Their finest hour came in the five days before the American invasion of Luzon when they launched a massive campaign to prepare the island for American landings in what was called “Operations Plan 12.” The guerrillas received their orders on Jan. 4, 1945.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
American military leaders who fought with Filipino guerrillas against Japan. Army Maj. Robert Lapham, third from left, was Capt. Ray C. Hunt’s superior during guerrilla operations. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The American relayed the order to begin operations to the other company commanders and then took his men on an assault against a Japanese encampment. While the overzealous guerrillas launched such a slapdash attack that Hunt called it a “Marx Brothers battle,” it managed to cause extensive damage and kill some of the Japanese defenders.

The best part for the guerrillas was that when the Japanese troops found their bullet casings dated 1942 and 1943, they assumed that they had been attacked by paratroopers and so began to focus on the possibility of constant attacks, degrading their morale and readiness.

Hunt and his men spent the following days collecting intelligence and harassing the Japanese as they withdrew to defensive positions. When the invasion came on Jan. 9, they were ordered to stay in their position. This put them in the perfect place to attack Japanese forces falling back east from the main American attackers in the west.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division move through Baleta Pass on Luzon Island in March 1945. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Hunt’s men would later be credited with 3,000 kills in those crucial five days preceding the invasion.

The American leadership accepted Hunt’s promotion to captain and ordered him to rejoin American forces. He went on horseback with 15 of his fighters to the headquarters and briefed other officers on the disposition of guerrilla and Japanese forces, often accidentally speaking in Filipino dialects because he was no longer used to speaking English.

Hunt voluntarily remained in the Philippines for a few more months to support the American invasion and was personally pinned with a Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. Douglas MacArthur who thanked Hunt and others for remaining in the Philippines and serving American interests for three years.

(Author’s note: A lot of the information for this article comes from Capt. Ray C. Hunt’s memoirs, “Behind Japanese Lines: An American Guerrilla in the Philippines,” a well-written and often funny account of his wartime exploits.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Sea Harrier defeated more superior fighters during the Falklands War

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April, 1982, the Royal Navy sent two carriers — the HMS Invincible and the HMS Hermes — to support the forces that would have the job of taking those islands back.


According to an Air Force study of Argentinian air power, the Argentinians committed 122 combat aircraft – a mixture of A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers (copies of the Mirage V), Super Etendards and Mirage III interceptors. Against this, the Royal Navy had two squadrons of British Aerospace Sea Harriers totaling 20 aircraft, with later reinforcements of eight Sea Harriers and 10 RAF Harriers.

In essence, the ability of the British to take back the Falklands rested on pilots and aircraft fighting while outnumbered six-to-one.

 

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Argentinean Air Force Mirage III fighters (Youtube Screenshot)

The Sea Harrier pilots did have an advantage. The Argentinians only had two aerial refueling aircraft – and that shortage meant only so many planes could be sent on a given strike. Furthermore, their most capable fighters, the Mirages and Daggers, were not equipped for mid-air refueling.

One of the most notable dogfights involving the Sea Harrier took place on June 8, 1982. A pair of RAF Sea Harriers, lead by RAF Flight Lt. David Morgan, engaged four A-4 Skyhawks following up on an attack that had inflicted severe damage on the landing ships HMS Sir Galahad and HMS Sir Tristan.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Gun-camera footage of an Argentinean Air Force A-4 Skyhawk being shot down by RAF Flight Lieutenant David Morgan. (Youtube Screenshot)

Morgan engaged the Skyhawks first, firing two Sidewinders and scoring two kills. His wingman shot down a third. The last Skyhawk fled. Morgan and his wingman then returned to the carrier HMS Hermes. Morgan would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

Six days after that engagement, the Argentinean forces on the Falkland Islands would surrender. The Sea Harrier had proven it was capable of winning a war, even when badly outnumbered. Below, check out this clip from the Smithsonian Channel, which shows footage from Morgan’s engagement with the Argentinean Skyhawks, and see how the Fleet Air Arm was Britain’s 1982 version of “The Few.”

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What is known about Blackbeard’s (still) buried treasure

There is no doubt that the most well-known and infamous pirate of all time is Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. He terrorized the Caribbean for years before his eventual death in 1718. Three hundred years later, his massive, hidden fortune is still lost to history.


Despite how they’re portrayed in pop culture, pirates did not leave maps laying around with an “x” marking the spot — probably because that’s a terrible plan. If anything, they would know a general location and remember where it was buried. When it comes to massively successful pirates like Blackbeard, however, a single treasure chest buried six feet deep wouldn’t be nearly enough.

 

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Sorry to any Robert Louis Stevenson fans… but, no.

In fact, as far as we know, only one pirate, Thomas Tew, used an actual treasure chest to stow his prize. That particular cache of wealth was valued at around $102 million in today’s money. According to Blackbeard’s ledger, his wealth was evaluated at a (comparatively) paltry $12.5 million. If you think that’s suspiciously low for a pirate of his stature, you’d be correct. His ledger also notes that his real treasure “lay in a location known only to him and the devil.”

In terms of a suitable hiding spot, it’s more than likely stowed in a cave similar to Dungeon Rock in Massachusetts, where pirate Tom Veal hid his treasure. Knowing that Edward Teach often docked in the Carolinas, that’d be a logical start for treasure hunters. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina was his most common hang-out spot, but if it hasn’t been found there over the last three hundred years, you can be sure it’s not there.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
And believe me: Every tourist who goes to this island thinks they’ll be the one to finally find it.

Weeks before his death, Blackbeard knew his time was coming to an end. The Spanish and British were hot on his tail and, if he hadn’t already, he wouldn’t have had the time to consolidate all of his Caribbean treasures. He went down with his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the coast of Ocracoke Island.

Many ships have been discovered off the shore, but none have identified as Queen Anne’s Revenge. Although Blackbeard’s ship was boarded, no Englishman was recorded as becoming extremely wealthy after the raid there’s little reason to believe that there was a large sum of money on his ship.

As far as anyone knows, it’s still out there somewhere…

MIGHTY HISTORY

This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response

The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist. 

Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines. 

That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.  

“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’ 

More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I. 

“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’ 

The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.  

The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said. 

The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.  

War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed. 

“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat. 

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’ 

Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.  

“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’ 

A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected. 

While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later. 

“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.  

“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’ 

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

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The reason the British military formed the Special Air Service

In World War II, the British needed a special group of men to tip the scales in North Africa and they came up with the Special Air Service.


The SAS, originally put together as L Detachment of the Special Air Services Brigade in an effort to mislead the Germans and Italians as to the size of the unit, was tasked with conducting desert raids behind enemy lines.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
An SAS jeep manned by Sgt. Schofield and Trooper Jeavons of 1st SAS near Geilenkirchen, Germany, on November 18, 1944. (Photo: British Army Sgt. Hewitt)

The paratroopers of the SAS failed in their first mission but were stunningly successful in their second when they destroyed 60 enemy aircraft on the ground with no casualties.

As the unit continued to rack up victories, they were given more daring missions and better equipment. One team was even tasked with assassinating German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in France but was unable to reach him before he was injured and evacuated in an unrelated incident.

The SAS history is clearly and quickly laid out in this video from Simple History. Check it out below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about trench clubs

Rifles, grenades, and bayonets are just some of the weapons ground troops used while fighting in the trenches of World War I. However, there’s one weapon that’s often overlooked by history, even though its use was extremely important — especially in the close-quarters combat typical of The Great War. That is the trench club.


In the event that one force decided to raid their enemy’s trench, oftentimes, their bolt-action rifles were rendered near ineffective, as each shot was followed by spending precious seconds reloading. Similarly, stabbing a man with a bayonet requires that, before engaging another enemy, you must first withdraw the blade from the bad guy’s flesh. Every single moment matters when you’ve closed in on the enemy, and regaining a firm grip on your bayonet may take too long.

So, troops grabbed old pieces of wood and converted them into weapons. The various types of trench clubs used in World War I hearken back to when brave Knights once fought with them on medieval battlefields. Here’s what you didn’t know about these improvised tools of destruction.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

One of the common variations on trench clubs.

(Imperial War Museum)

1. They would commonly see use in night raids

In the black of night, troops would crawl across the dangerous area between friendly and enemy fortifications known as “no man’s land” and navigate through the enemy’s trenches, quietly clubbing their opposers without raising alarm.

Sneaky.

2. Size does matter

Reportedly, a medium-sized club worked best within the confined spaces typical of trench warfare. The average club was approximately 40-centimeters long, which is, basically, the length of a standard classroom ruler plus 3 inches.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

The guts of the Mills’ bomb were removed and mounted on the head of the club.

3. They were made right there on the frontline

Trench clubs weren’t standard issue, so troops would gather materials found in the trenches and either put them together themselves or have unit’s carpenter do it. Nails, the shell of a Mills’ bomb, and a variety metal components were affixed the clubs, usually in mass quantities, to increase lethality.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

See the club on the bottom? Yeah, that’s the spring club.

4. The most famous type of club was the…

…spring club.

This club was made up of a leather handle, a flexible metal coil as the base, and a metal head. Various other heads, like smalls metals balls and star-shaped blades, were also affixed to clubs.

www.youtube.com

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get an animated look on the major impact trench clubs had on World War I.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a soldier saved the day by calling an artillery strike on himself

When the Axis attacked the town of Sommocolonia the day after Christmas, 1944, they thought they made quite a breakthrough. Dislodging elements of the 92nd Infantry Division, they stormed through the town intent on retaking it.


They didn’t reckon on running into Lt. John R. Fox.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Lt. John Fox, U.S. Army. (Image from U.S. Army)

Fox grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio before attending Wilberforce University outside of Dayton. While at Wilberforce, Fox was a member of the University’s ROTC detachment and studied under retired Chief Warrant Officer Aaron R. Fisher.

Fisher was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross during WWI for holding his position against superior odds while a member of the 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.

Upon his graduation in 1940, Fox was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of artillery in the U.S. Army. When World War II broke out, Fox, being African-American, was assigned to the segregated 92nd Infantry Division as part of the 598th Field Artillery Battalion.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Hasbro honored Lt. Fox with his own G.I. Joe in their Medal of Honor series. (Image from Hasbro)

The 92nd arrived in Italy in August 1944 and participated in actions in the Allied drive northward. The Division crossed the Arno River and contributed to the attack on the Gothic Line. By November, the division was holding the line and conducting patrols in the Serchio River Valley.

Around this time, Fox was transferred from the 598th Field Artillery to the Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment – the same regiment his mentor, Aaron Fisher, bravely served in 26 years earlier.

Opposite the Americans was an amalgamation of Italian and German infantry forces preparing for a renewed offensive.

On the morning of Dec. 26, 1944, this group of eight Axis battalions launched Operation Winter Storm and crashed into the 92nd Infantry Division’s positions in the Serchio River Valley.

Caught off guard by the surprise attack, units of the 92nd fell back across the line.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
The African-American troops who fought hard in Italy were nearly forgotten as time went on.

As his unit retreated from Sommocolonia, Lt. Fox volunteered to remain behind to call for defensive fire against the attacking enemy. Several other members of his forward observation party agreed to stay behind as well.

They took up a position in the second story of a house which offered an excellent vantage point as the Germans poured through the streets. While the Germans pressed the attack, Fox rained down fire into the village.

The Germans came closer and closer to Fox’s position, and as they moved, so did the artillery fire – until it was nearly right on top of him.

At this point, the Germans must have realized where Fox was positioned as they were swarming around the house. He radioed, “that last round was just where I wanted it, bring it in 60 yards more.”

He was asking for the fire to be brought down right on top of his position.

The man on the other end was confused and asked Fox if he was sure of what he was asking. “There are more of them than there are us,” Fox said “fire it.”

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II
Artwork from the Congressional Medal off Honor Society.

American artillery obliterated the house, but Fox had not died in vain. His heroic deeds held up the German advance and allowed for American forces to regroup for a counterattack.

When the Americans retook the village, they found the rubble of the house Fox had made his stand in. In the ruins were the bodies of Fox and eight Italian partisans who had been fighting alongside him. Surrounding the house, the bodies of over 100 German soldiers were counted.

Unfortunately, due to the pervasive racism of the time, Fox’s sacrifice was not immediately recognized. A later review in 1982 recognized the error and awarded Fox a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.

A second review in the 1990s once again came across Lt. Fox’s actions and upgraded his award to the Medal of Honor. His widow received the award from President Bill Clinton in 1997.

The grateful Italians of Sommocolonia erected a monument to the sacrifice of Fox and the eight Italians who died by his side.
MIGHTY HISTORY

9 books you need to read to understand World War I

November 2018 marks 100 years since Germany signed the armistice that brought World War I to a close. Yet in many ways “the war to end all wars” has never really ceased. From the outbreak of a second world war just twenty years later to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the current perilous state of Turkish Democracy, the smoldering ashes of WWI have ignited time and time again. These nine books — arranged by genre and covering the hostilities from the home front, the trenches, and the hospitals where soldiers were treated for a new injury known as “shell shock” — are essential to understanding how a century-old feud shaped the world we live in today.


The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Random House Publishing Group)

1. The Guns of August

By Barbara Tuchman

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the Modern Library’s top 100 nonfiction books of all time, this is the definitive history of the first 30 days of the war—a month that set the course of the entire conflict. Tuchman brings a novelist’s flair to her subject, from the spectacle of King Edward VII’s funeral procession—”The sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendour never to be seen again”—to the dust and sweat and terror of the German advance across Belgium. She captures the war’s key figures with flair and precision and enlivens her analysis with a dry-martini wit: “Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.” Most astonishingly of all, she creates genuine suspense out of the inevitable march of history, convincing her readers to forget what they already know and turn the pages with bated breath.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

2. The First World War

By John Keegan

Twenty years after its original release, this gripping chronicle remains the best single-volume account of the war. Keegan, an acclaimed British military historian, brings a refreshingly clear-eyed perspective to some of the 20th century’s most confounding questions: Why couldn’t Europe’s greatest empires avoid such a tragic and unnecessary conflict? And why did so many millions of people have to die? By foregoing radio and telephone to communicate by letter, Keegan explains, world leaders effectively rendered themselves deaf and blind. The problem was grotesquely amplified on the battlefield, where weapons technology had advanced to the point that entire regiments could be wiped out in a matter of hours. No other history brings the war’s mind-boggling magnitude — 70,000 British soldiers killed and 170,000 wounded in the Battle of Passchendaele alone — into sharper focus.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Aurum Press)

3. Gallipoli

By Alan Moorehead

As an acclaimed correspondent for London’s Daily Express, Moorehead covered WWII from North Africa to Normandy. But the Australian once swore he’d never write about the most famous military engagement in his nation’s history: the Battle of Gallipoli. He’d heard more than enough stories from ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) veterans back home and had grown bored with the subject. Thankfully, he changed his mind — and his eloquent, elegiac account is a modern day masterpiece. From Winston Churchill’s plan to “launch the greatest amphibious operation mankind had known up till then” to the costly, avoidable blunders that doomed 50,000 Allied troops (11,000 of them from Australia and New Zealand), Moorehead vividly captures the grand ambition and tragic folly of the campaign. His sketch of army officer Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk, is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how the seeds of modern-day Turkey’s independence were sown at Gallipoli.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Random House Publishing Group)

4. Paris 1919

By Margaret MacMillan

WWI brought about the fall of the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires and displaced millions of people across Europe. Faced with the monumental task of reshaping the world, Allied leaders convened the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. Over the next six months, delegates from 27 nations redrew international borders, hashed out the terms of Germany’s surrender, and laid the groundwork for the League of Nations. Above all, they aimed to prevent another world war. They failed, of course — Hitler invaded Poland just 20 years later—but this engrossing, comprehensive history debunks the harshest judgments of the Treaty of Versailles and provides essential context for understanding its myriad repercussions. MacMillan covers impressive ground, from the Balkans to Baku to Baghdad, without losing focus on the colorful personalities and twists of fate that make for a great story

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Orion Publishing Group, Limited)

5. Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain

The daughter of a well-to-do paper manufacturer, Vera Brittain left her studies at Oxford in 1915 to join England’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse in London, Malta, and France. Like so many others of her generation, she felt called to be a part of something larger than herself. By the war’s end — and before she turned 25 — she had lost her fiancé, her brother, and two of her closest friends. Her chronicle of the war years, her return to Oxford, and her attempts to forge a career as a journalist is both an elegy for a lost generation and a landmark of early 20th-century feminism. Upon the book’s original publication in 1933, the New York Times declared that no other WWI memoir was “more honest, more revealing within its field, or more heartbreakingly beautiful”. Eighty-five years later, that assessment still rings true.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. Goodbye to All That

By Robert Graves

This spellbinding autobiography is by turns poignant, angry, satirical, and lewd. It’s also, according to literary critic Paul Fussell, “the best memoir of the First World War.” A lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (where he fought alongside his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon), Graves was severely wounded in the Battle of the Somme and reported killed in action. His family had to print a notice in the newspaper that he was still alive. As befitting a man returned from the dead, Graves breaks all conventions, mixing fact and fiction to get to the poetic truth of trench warfare. Sassoon, for one, objected to the inaccuracies, but Good-bye to All That touched a nerve with war-weary readers and made Graves famous. It has gone on to influence much of the 20th-century’s finest war literature, from Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Penguin Publishing Group)

7. Storm of Steel

By Ernst Jünger

An international bestseller when it was originally published in 1920, this fiercely lyrical memoir is the definitive account of the German experience during WWI. Jünger, a born warrior who ran away from home at the age of 18 to join the French Foreign Legion, fought with the German infantry in the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Cambrai. He was wounded seven times during the war, most severely during the 1918 Spring Offensive, when he was shot through the chest and nearly died. He received the German Empire’s highest military honor, the Pour le Mérite, for his service. Taken from Jünger’s war diary, Storm of Steel has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that separates it from other WWI autobiographies. Some have criticized it as a glorification of war, while others, including Matterhorn author and Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes, think it’s one of the truest depictions of the combat experience ever written.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque

This iconic German novel was first serialized in 1928, 10 years after the armistice. The book version sold millions of copies and was quickly adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. By then, the Nazi Party was the second largest political party in Germany; Joseph Goebbels led violent protests at the film’s Berlin screenings. Three years later, he banned and publicly burned Remarque’s books in one of his first orders of business as Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. Why the intense hatred for the story of a young man who volunteers to fight in WWI? Because it is one of the most powerful anti-war novels in Western literature. In Remarque’s downbeat tale, one nameless battle is indistinguishable from the next and the lucky survivors are doomed to lifetimes of disillusionment and alienation. No other book, fiction or nonfiction, conveys the existential horror of trench warfare so clearly.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

(Penguin Publishing Group)

9. Regeneration

By Pat Barker

This audaciously intelligent, powerfully moving historical novel, the first in a trilogy, opens with the full text of Siegfried Sassoon’s letter refusing to return to active duty after receiving treatment for gastric fever. The declaration, which was read in the House of Commons, earned him a mandatory stay at Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he was treated for shell shock by the noted neurologist Dr. William Rivers and became friends with fellow poet Wilfred Owen. From these facts, Barker fashions one of the most original works of WWI literature, intertwining fact and fiction to explore Freudian psychology, the doctor-patient relationship, nationalism, masculinity, and the British class system, among other fascinating topics. Foregoing battlefields and trenches to explore the terrain of the human mind, Barker gets to the essential truth of WWI: No one who lived through it — man or woman, soldier or civilian — saw the world the same way again.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

Featured

Why America has always had a silly history with turkeys

Every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, there’s a ceremony held in which the President of the United States gives an official proclamation before a large crowd, pardoning a turkey for all the crimes they may have committed.

The turkey pardon is a fun — albeit goofy — ceremony that helps the country get into the holiday spirit, even if it began in ’87 as a means of distracting people from the Iran-Contra Affair. Since then, every president has kept the tradition going because, well, America seems to love turkeys this time of year.

As strange as this tradition might seem, it’s really not all that out of place. The relationship between Americans and turkeys has been weird since the beginning.


The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

In those days, the meal was “scraping together what they had.” By today’s standards, a feast of venison, lobster, and duck is far more fancy than a deep-fried turkey.

(“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth.” 1914. Painting. Jennie A. Brownscombe)

Long before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, indigenous peoples had sort of domesticated the turkey and started breeding them, making them plumper so that they’d make for a better meal. And it made good sense to do so. Turkeys are simple creatures that, when nourished, develop into large birds with plenty of delicious meat and they’re covered in large feathers that are great for crafting.

Furthermore, wild turkeys can survive in a range of environments. They were found all across the New World, from the Cree peoples’ lands near the Hudson Bay in Canada to the lands of the Aztecs in Mexico. Columbus himself even once remarked on how great the birds tasted. Eventually, turkey became a staple in most settlers’ diets… which makes it all the more odd that there wasn’t any turkey served for dinner at the first Thanksgiving.

The Wampanoag people were well known for their hunting skills and brought venison because it was showcased their talents as hunters. The pilgrims brought lobster and water fowl because they were much more common. Since the settlers didn’t really leave Plymouth, turkey was of off the menu unless they ventured into native territory.

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

Not going to lie, that’s kind of badass.

(U.S. Diplomacy Center)

When everyone’s gathered around the table eating turkey this Thanksgiving, you’re bound to overhear that one uncle say, “Did you know the US almost made the turkey its national bird?” in an attempt to look smart. Unfortunately for your uncle, no. That never happened. Not even close. That’s fake news. Yes, all of these links go to a different source disproving your uncle. But it’s not your uncle’s fault — this myth has been perpetuated for hundreds of years.

This myth got its start just two years after the creation of the Great Seal of the United States when Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter about the design choices. He jokingly said that bald eagles had “bad moral character.” He also said the bird of prey was more of a scavenger (they’re not). He went on to praise the seal of the Order of the Cincinnati, a fraternity of military officers, that had a turkey on it.

In case you were wondering, Franklin’s actual recommendation for the Great Seal was of Moses parting the Red Sea with fire raining everywhere and the motto of, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

The Red Ball Express: How African American truck drivers supplied Patton’s 3rd army in World War II

These loud, slow-moving, flightless birds will wreak havoc on farms in the spring time when the seeds are sewn. That’s why turkey season falls around then… in most states, anyway. Some states hold it in fall so that citizens can hunt down their own Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Soon after the United States became the United States, Americans quickly started hunting down and eating wild turkeys. They hunted them so thoroughly that pioneers would almost drive them to extinction wherever they went. The turkeys survived westward expansion and steadily climbed — then, the Great Depression hit and, for obvious reasons, they almost went extinct again in the 1930s.

After World War II, some troops returning from war went on to become game wardens, and began relocating turkeys en masse to avoid their being hunted into extinction. But how did these military veterans manage to catch large quantities of elusive turkeys in the wild? With modified howitzers shells that launched nets, of course!

No, seriously. These turkey-net cannons actually worked. The turkey populations went from just under 500,000 across the entire U.S. in 1959 to the roughly seven million that are fair game for hunting each and every year.

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