Not every infantry troop can be an expert in hunting snipers. For the Finns fighting off the Soviet Union during the 1939-1940 Winter War and it’s later version, the Continuation War, it could be even more difficult. They were given little training, little in the way of weapons, and pretty much little in the way of anything.
Since the attack from the USSR came so suddenly and the need for reserves so great in the Karelian Peninsula, many Finnish troops just picked up their personal weapons and whatever cold weather gear they had laying around and went off to kill some Russians.
For the most part, it worked. It worked much better than anyone would expect it to, anyway. The Finns were one of the most adaptive fighting forces anyone could have ever wanted fighting off a massive communist invasion.
When they couldn’t kill tanks with their home-bought rifles, they used Molotov Cocktails, which did the trick just fine. When they couldn’t match the Soviets in a pitched battle, they just used snipers to kill as many as they could (which was a lot).
When the Soviets brought out their own snipers, the Finns adapted to overcome that too.
There’s no doubt that there were many places in World War II and the surrounding wars where the fighting was harsh and bitter. They fought two wars in the time spanning World War II, the Winter War, from 1939-1940 and the Continuation War, which started when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union.
It’s not cool to be an ally with Hitler’s Germany, but when your only enemy is the Soviet Union and you really want revenge on the communists, it’s the only ally around.
The USSR fighting Finland wasn’t the bloodiest, but the pure hatred was there. Finns definitely tried to get into the heads of Russian soldiers by taking their frozen corpses and putting them on display to scare the incoming enemy. They used a similar tactic to take out Russian snipers.
A sniper is a difficult enemy to root out and kill. The whole purpose of a snipers is to move unseen and kill from a distance without being caught. Think about your average individual, pinned down by sniper fire. Will they know to look for the muzzle flash? Will they know to find disturbed snow or vegetation? Would they be able to estimate distance using the crack of the weapon?
Probably not. Neither did a lot of the hastily trained Finns who were daring and brave, but new to infantry combat. This is where their ingenuity served them well once more. Instead of using a dead Soviet body, the Finns would construct a mannequin to attract the sniper’s bullet. That’s nothing new, soldiers had been doing that for decades.
What is new is the practice of getting a general location of the sniper’s position and then firing a Lahti-39 20mm anti-tank rifle into the vicinity. That’s the solution the Finnish soldiers came up with.
The Finns couldn’t penetrate the armor of the Soviet T-34 tanks, but it was useful in lighting up a bunker, clearing tanks of pesky soldiers before dropping a Molotov Cocktail in them, and for taking down aircraft. If the 20mm Lahti can take down an aircraft and lesser tanks, imagine what it can do to a sniper, no matter how well it’s hidden.
Finland may not have won the the Winter War or the Continuation War, but the Soviet Union paid a heavy price for taking what little of Finland it captured.
In 1563 and 1564, Sweden built a massive warship that was the pinnacle of naval technology at the time.
Its creation ushered in a sea change in naval combat — despite the fact that the ship sank early in its first battle.
King Eric XIV of Sweden ordered that the ship Mars be constructed to put Sweden at the forefront of naval artillery. It was a five-deck ship with two decks dedicated to artillery, mostly cannons. Even the crow’s nests had guns.
All this came at a time when naval engagements were decided by seamanship and armed boardings —where a group of sailors from one ship crossed to the deck of an enemy ship and fought with swords and pistols.
Naval artillery in the early and mid-1500s was focused on killing enemy personnel or causing structural damage to the enemy ship, but no one had ever sunk a ship that way. Ships were usually sank by fire, sabotage by boarding crews, or by ramming.
But Eric XIV had a vision of the future and ordered his admiral to take the Mars as part of a huge fleet aimed at Denmark and Lubeck (part of modern Germany) and sink ships using its naval artillery.
And the admiral delivered… probably. A Danish chaplain said that the Mars cast a somber shadow over the whole Danish and German fleet when it arrived. He also said it later sank the Longbark, one of the largest ships in the enemy fleet, with naval gunnery.
If accurate, it was likely the first time a ship was sunk by naval artillery.
The 64-gun warship Vasa sits in museum. The ship was built in the tradition of the Mars, but wasn’t as well designed and floundered during its first voyage in 1628.
(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)
But the Mars cast too large a shadow and, as a consequence, drew too many attackers. On the second day of the battle, enemy ships sent massive amounts of fireballs onto the Mars and disabled it before sending boarding parties onto it.
What happened next is unsure. A fire definitely occurred in the Mars‘ gunpowder stores, and that might have set the loaded cannons off. Regardless, the ship was destroyed in the following hours, left to sink in approximately 250 feet of water.
Luckily for archaeologists, it was 250 feet of the Baltic Sea, which lacks the large populations of shipworms that destroy wrecks in the rest of the world. And the cold water is relatively still, reducing erosion. According to researchers who spoke to National Geographic, the wreck might be the best preserved vessel of its kind.
The concept behind the Mars was proven in the years following its loss as navy after navy, including those of Denmark and Lubeck, constructed large ships reminiscent of the cannon-toting behemoth.
A World War I monument in Rhode Island no longer bears the names of soldiers who died fighting; the bronze plaques were stolen decades ago. A statue of a WWI soldier in New York City has a dented helmet and missing rifle. The wooden rifle stack on top of a monument in Washington state has rotted away. Trees memorializing soldiers from Worcester, Massachusetts, have died.
The 100th anniversary this year of America’s involvement in the “Great War” has drawn attention to the state of the monuments to its soldiers and galvanized efforts to fix them.
Many were forgotten about over time, or no one took responsibility for their care. Some were looked after, but they’re in need of repairs, too, after being outside for so long.
“There are some cases of vandalism, but in general it has been time and a lack of maintenance and really nobody paying much attention,” said Theo Mayer, program manager for the US World War I Centennial Commission’s 100 Cities/100 Memorials program. “Somehow the war slipped into our historic unconscious, and so did the memorials.”
The centennial commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago are helping communities that are restoring and rescuing their memorials. Fifty matching grants of up to $2,000 each were awarded in late September. They’re accepting applications for another 50 grants, to be awarded in April.
The nation owes it to WWI veterans, “lest we forget,” said Kenneth Clarke, president and CEO of the military museum.
“They can’t speak for themselves. There’s none of them left. It’s up to us to carry this legacy forward,” Clarke said. “That’s a responsibility we have as citizens of this great country.”
The first group of grant recipients includes a project to replace the plaques in Newport, Rhode Island; repairs to the World War Memorial in Raymond, Washington, and to the Highbridge Doughboy statue in New York City; and tree plantings and restoration work for Memorial Grove at Green Hill Park in Worcester.
The plaques were stolen from the Miantonomi Memorial Park Tower in Newport nearly 40 years ago.
“Why hasn’t anyone replaced them? I don’t know. Apathy? I just don’t understand,” said Bob Cornett, who’s working with the city on the project.
The Washington memorial, tucked in the corner of a park, was becoming an eyesore because of the missing top and paint peeling off the pillar, said Army veteran Gordon Aleshire. Now it has been recoated, a bronze rifle stack has been made and it’s being moved next to another war memorial.
“We were embarrassed over it,” said Aleshire, coordinator of the project. “The VFW thought the city was going to take care of it, and the city thought the VFW was going to take care of it, and no one did. Now we’ll have a plan to make sure we won’t let it get into such disrepair in the future.”
The Highbridge Doughboy was erected in the Bronx in 1923. It was later vandalized and moved into storage in the 1970s. It’s currently on display in Central Park. It will be relocated to a park near Yankee Stadium when it is cleaned and fixed. The grant will help the city’s parks department replicate the main dedication plaque.
In Worcester, an American Legion post planted maples to honor those who died in WWI, dedicating it in 1928. The post later closed, and about half of the trees have died. The Green Hill Park Coalition is working with the city to restore the grove.
The first 50 memorials selected are in 28 states. The Victory Memorial in Chicago, also known as Victory Monument, commemorates the 370th Infantry Regiment, an all-black unit that served with French soldiers. It has been well cared for. Local residents are going to plant a memorial garden and teach high school students more about the war. A poppy garden is being planted at North Carolina State University’s Memorial Bell Tower, as well.
The projects that received grants must be completed by the centennial of the war’s end, Nov. 11, 2018. The centennial commission is building the National WWI Memorial in Washington, DC.
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 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.
The Alaska-class cruisers are often seen as a waste of resources. At first glance, it is easy to see why. The United States only completed two out of the six planned vessels. One more was launched, but never finished. All three that managed to reach the water were quickly in reserve and then scrapped. But these ships were quite an achievement – a mini-battleship that gave good service during their brief careers.
Much of the issue was timing. According to data in Volume Fifteen of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Supplement and General Index,” the lead ship, USS Alaska (CB 1) was not commissioned until June 17, 1944, 11 days after the D-Day landings. The second ship, USS Guam (CB 2), was commissioned on Sept. 17, 1944. These ships didn’t have much left to fight by the time they got to the front lines.
Their primary purpose was to kill Japan’s heavy cruisers in a surface action. The Japanese had three classes of heavy cruiser intended for front-line service: The Myoko, Takao, and Mogami classes each packed ten eight-inch guns, and at least 12 610mm torpedo tubes for the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo.
According to Fleets of World War II, the Alaska-class cruisers were armed with nine 12-inch guns and 12 five-inch dual-purpose guns. NavWeaps.com notes that these guns, the 12″/50 Mark 8, had a maximum range of 38,573 yards. By comparison, the Long Lance torpedo had a maximum range of 32,800 yards.
That is a difference of three miles in favor of the Alaska-class cruisers. In essence, a Japanese heavy cruiser would be making a run of about three miles under fire before it could get within the maximum range of its torpedoes. In the roughly six minutes they would be making that run, an Alaska-class cruiser could get off anywhere from 15 to 18 salvoes.
The Alaska-class cruisers ended up helping to defend the fleet against Japanese planes. Both vessels helped escort the stricken USS Franklin (CV 13) after she suffered horrific damage during the invasion of Okinawa, and later took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the return of American troops home after World War II. These ships were sold for scrap in the early 1960s, never carrying out their primary mission of killing enemy heavy cruisers, but these mini-battleships still did their share during the war.
The USS Hancock burns after being struck by a kamikaze pilot.
Everyone knows that, in World War II, you couldn’t find nearly as much information on Twitter or Google. No, if you wanted to learn what was happening on the frontlines of the war in the early 1940s, you had to rely on newsreels played before movies and newspapers.
The battleship USS Tennessee bombards Okinawa as troops move forward to land.
(U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command)
But the newsreels were the much more visceral way to learn about the conflict. Often, censors would tone down depictions of combat and remove reports of some ship sinkings. But at other times, particularly when personnel were especially heroic, the military would allow reports of a ship sinking and even release the footage.
That was the case with this footage of the fighting on Okinawa and the near-sinking of the USS Franklin, an aircraft carrier hit by a kamikaze strike. The Franklin erupted in flames after the explosion ripped through it, but hundreds of sailors remained at their post even after the fleet’s admiral gave the captain permission to abandon the ship.
Instead, the crew evacuated non-essential personnel and got to work battling the flames and securing volatile ammunition and fuel stores to prevent further explosions. The ship’s chaplain even stayed on duty, performing last rites for the hundreds of young men dead and dying in the stricken ship.
WWII OKINAWA INVASION & SAGA OF AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS FRANKLIN NEWSREEL 72352C
And this footage, much of it shot by military combat cameramen, was released by the military in order to show the heroism of the sailors to moviegoers back home. And, it was combined with footage from the action ashore where soldiers and Marines enjoyed a lightly resisted landing but then had to fight fiercely for every additional yard as cave after cave after cave was found to contain fanatical defenders, well-armed and well-trained to bleed the landing forces dry.
A quick warning before you play the footage, though: This is some of the most visceral footage released by the military during the war, and it contains images of combat on Okinawa and at sea. There are multiple shots of combatants on both sides of the fight as they are dead or dying. So, only forge ahead if you’re prepared to see all of that.
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
He brought Revolutionary France back from the brink of destruction with his Italian campaign in 1796 and 1797. He made a fool of Czar Alexander I at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. He encircled an entire Austrian army and forced them to capitulate at the Battle of Ulm in 1805. And these are just a few of his exploits.
But he was also a student of history, and repeatedly instructed his subordinates to pore over the campaigns of seven specific commanders that came before him, arguing that it was the only way to learn the art of war and become a great captain.
Wounded in battle 13 times during his 39 year career, one of Eugene’s greatest conquests was the Siege of Belgrade in 1717 against the Ottoman Empire, in which he led a cavalry attack that helped turn the tide.
“Military science,” Napoleon was quoted as saying by Madame de Remusat, “consists in calculating all the chances accurately in the first place, and then in giving accident exactly, almost mathematically, it’s place in one’s calculations.”
“Prince Eugene is one of those who understood [this] best,” Napoleon said.
6. Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632).
Gustavus Adolphus was king of Sweden between 1611-1632, and helped put Sweden on the map.
One of his greatest victories was at the Battle of Breitenfeld during the Thirty Years War when his forces, together with the Saxons, flanked both sides of the Catholic army and annihilated the enemy.
He was killed during the same war while leading a cavalry charge at the Battle of Lutzen.
5. Frederick the Great (1712-1786).
Frederick II, or Frederick the Great, was king of Prussia from 1740-1786 and greatly expanded his kingdom’s territory through his military victories.
Some of his greatest victories were at the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen during the Seven Years War, where he defeated larger armies with great maneuvering.
But despite being one of Napoleon’s seven great commanders, the French commander appeared to consider the next commander even better.
4. Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne (1611-1675).
Turenne was a French field marshal who served Louis XIV, also known as The Sun King.
Perhaps his greatest victories came in the winter of 1674 and 1675 during the Franco-Dutch War. In December of 1674, he maneuvered around the German army and surprised them weeks later in early January, hitting the enemy’s flanks and driving them away from Alsace.
He was killed later in July 1675, as the Franco-Dutch War was still raging, by a cannonball as he was observing enemy lines.
In 1793, Revolutionary France was bent on erasing anything that had to with royalty and religion, and began destroying royal tombs at St-Denis outside of Paris.
Known as a man of the people, Turenne’s body was one of the few left untouched. His remains now reside in the Invalides.
“You seem to admire [Frederick the Great] immensely,” Napoleon once told a subordinate, according to his secretary, Bourrienne. “What do you find in him so astonishing? He is not equal to Turenne.”
“General,” Napoleon’s subordinate replied, “it is not merely the warrior I esteem in Frederick, but one cannot refuse one’s admiration of a man, who even on the throne, was a philosopher.”
“True … but all his philosophy shall not prevent me from striking out his kingdom from the map of Europe,” Napoleon said.
A few years later, after he crowned himself emperor, Napoleon annihilated Prussia during the Jena-Auerstadt campaign of 1806, and subsumed the kingdom in his empire.
3. Hannibal Barca (247 bc-183 bc).
Hannibal was a general and statesman for the Carthage in present day Tunisia who wreaked havoc on the Roman Empire.
Arguably his greatest conquest came during the Battle of Cannae when he compelled the Romans into attacking in unfavorable conditions, eventually wiping out their cavalry and then its entire army. The Roman historian Polybius wrote that Hannibal’s army killed 70,000 Romans.
Hannibal is also well known for impressively crossing the Alps before entering Italy and the Battle of Cannae, surviving harrowing assaults from the Gauls.
His power diminished, he poisoned himself around 183 BC.
2. Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC).
Caesar was a Roman general and politician who is one of the greatest conquerors of all time.
Well known for his victory at the Battle of Alesia and conquest of the Gauls, he was made a consul in the first Roman Triumvarate in 59 BC along with Pompey the Great and Marcus Licinios Crassus.
But civil war later broke out between Caesar and Pompey. In 48 BC, after suffering a series of defeats to Caesar, Pompey was murdered in Egypt.
“I admire the fine campaign of Caesar in Africa,” Bourriene quoted Napoleon as saying.
Shortly after that, he fought a quick war in Anatolia — in present day Turkey — and made quick work of the king of Cimmerian Bosporus. His famous words, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” were from this war.
Caesar was afterwards made dictator, but was assassinated — stabbed to death by the Roman senators — in 44 BC.
1. Alexander the Great (356 bc-323 bc).
Alexander was king of Macedonia who conquered the Persian empire, invaded India and spread Grecian culture across much of the ancient world.
Tutored by Aristotle at a young age, he became king after his father, Phillip II, was assassinated.
While he never officially ranked the seven commanders, Napoleon himself, along with many other historians, seemed to consider Alexander the best.
“I place Alexander in the first rank,” Napoleon told Bourrienne. “My reason for giving the preference to the king of Macedon is, on account of the conception, and above all, for the execution of his campaign in Asia,” adding that he admired the Siege of Tyre, conquest of Egypt and march to the Oasis Ammon most.
Alexander died from illness in 323 bc.
Like his heroes, Napoleon Bonaparte is now considered one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
Here’s what Napoleon had to say about “the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederick.”
“Model yourself upon them. This is the only means of becoming a great captain, and of acquiring the secret of the war of war. Your own genius will be enlightened and improved by this study, and you will learn to reject all maxims foreign to the principles of these great commanders.”
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
One of the most notable parts of being on the home front of World War II was rationing. A lot of stuff was rationed – stuff we take for granted, like gas, sugar, coffee, and food. Part of this was because Axis advances cut off the supplies of some materials, like rubber (the Ames Historical Society notes that 90 percent of America’s rubber came from the Dutch East Indies). But a big part was the fact that the scale of the American build-up required a major shift in using America’s industry.
So, how did it work in the United States? Well, there was a government agency, the Office of Price Administration, that handled the rationing. The rationing didn’t hit right away. Tires were rapidly restricted, simply because what rubber was available was needed for military vehicles and aircraft. Gas rationing, in fact, was intended to help conserve tires, and started in some states in May 1942. This was a month after the Doolittle Raid. Even though the Untied States had turned the tide in the Pacific by December, the gas rationing was extended nationwide.
The real day-to-day impact came with the food rationing. In 1943, the United States began to ration the canned foods. Part of this was to ensure the military had plenty of the canned food (which formed the basis of the C-ration). But it also cut down on metal consumption – after all, you need a lot of metal to build a Navy that would have almost 6,800 ships by Aug. 14, 1945.
When Japan’s surrender was announced on Aug. 15, 1945, the rationing ended. You can see a video showing how the system was explained to Americans in 1943, using a cartoon by Chuck Jones (famous for drawing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) below.
For centuries, friends and foes of Russia marveled at the fierce fighting skills of their Cossack Warriors. The Cossacks fought to defend the Russian Czar against any manner of enemies – from Ottoman Turks to Napoleon’s Grande Armée, through a World War, and even against the Bolshevik Red Army.
They expanded the borders of the Russian Empire, conquering Siberia and the Caucasus regions for the Czar, all the way to the Bering Sea – capturing one-sixth of the Earth’s land area. Their martial prowess was unmatched in the region for a long time and they refused to be tied to any master. Even the name “Cossack” in the Turkic languages of the time and area meant “free,” “adventurer,” or “wanderer.”
Cossack loyalty to the Russian Czar was earned over centuries of fighting to maintain that independence. Many Czars were faced with Cossack uprisings and were forced to deal with them in their own ways, from putting down the rebellion or forcibly moving the population to another area of the Russian Empire.
From a young age, Cossacks raised their children to be elite warriors and ethnically Cossack in every way possible. Training could begin in infancy and only ever stop in an actual pitched battle.
Eventually, the Russian nobility came to accept the Cossacks, endowing them with certain rights and privileges in the Empire for their continued service in defending Russia’s borders. And they earned those rights, too. After his Grand Armée was forced out of Russia, the Cossacks harassed them all the way back to France. It was the Cossacks who captured Paris and unseated the French Emperor.
When the Empire fell during World War I and the Czar abdicated, the Cossacks were divided between the Red and White factions of the Russian Civil War. They fought primarily for the White (anti-Communist) Russians, which earned them persecution when the Bolsheviks won the war and founded the Soviet Union.
The persecution got so bad, many Cossacks fought for Nazi Germany during WWII.
It might come as a surprise to some that the fighting in Vietnam wasn’t limited to the Soviet-backed North or the U.S.-back South Vietnamese forces. Along with Communist China and other Communist movements in the region, who were fighting to reunite the Vietnams under the red banner, there were other belligerent, free countries in the region who had an interest in keeping South Vietnam away from the Commies. Among them was South Korea, whose tactics were sometimes so brutal, they had to be reined in by American forces.
But brutality doesn’t always inspire fear, and fear is what struck the hearts of Communist forces when they knew they were up against the Australians. The Aussies brought a death the Viet Cong might never see coming.
(Australian War Memorial)
Today, the picture of the Vietnam War is often American troops on search-and-destroy missions, fighting an often-unseen enemy who blends in with the jungle. When the North Vietnamese Army or the Viet Cong do attack the Americans in this perception, it comes as an unseen, unexpected ambush, routing the Americans and forcing them back to their fire bases. This is not actually how the Vietnam War went – at all. In Vietnam, much of the fighting was also done in the cities and in defense of those firebases. There were even often pitched battles featuring tanks and artillery. In fact, the 1972 Easter Offensive was the largest land movement since the Chinese entered the Korean War, and featured a three-pronged invasion of the South.
So let’s not pretend it was rice farmers vs. American soldiers.
But the North Vietnamese forces in the jungle did have to worry about a mysterious fighting force, moving silently to close in on them and murder them. They weren’t Americans — they were Australians, and they came to Vietnam to win.
Centurion Mark V/1 tanks of C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC), taking up position on the perimeter of Fire Support Base (FSB) Coral, shortly after their arrival at the Base.
(Neil James Ahern)
Australian special operations units would go out into the jungles of Vietnam for weeks at a time, often without saying a word to one another in order to maintain complete silence as they stalked the Northern troops through the jungles. The Australians committed more forces to the war in Vietnam than any other foreign contributor (except for the United States, that is). It was the largest force Australia had ever committed to a foreign conflict to date and was its largest war. But they conducted themselves slightly differently, especially in terms of special operations.
Just like the image of U.S. troops moving through the jungle, dodging booby traps and getting ambushed, the North Vietnamese forces had to face the same tactics when operating against the Australians. Aussies routinely ambushed NVA patrols and booby trapped trails used by the Viet Cong. When they did engage in a pitched battle, such as places like Binh Ba, the Australians weren’t afraid to fight hand-to-hand and move house-to-house. In fact, the NVA was beaten so badly at Binh Ba, they were forced to abandon the entire province.
A US Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter delivering stores to 102 Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, at Fire Support Base Coral, which is just being established.
The Vietnamese didn’t have much luck on the offensive against the Australians, either. When assaulting Firebase Coral-Balmoral in 1968, the Communists outnumbered the Aussies and New Zealanders almost two-to-one. They hit the base with a barrage of mortars in an attempt to draw the ANZAC forces out of the base and chalk up a win against the vaunted Australians. When the 120 Australians came out to clear the mortars, they found way more than a mortar company – they found 2,000 NVA troops surrounding them.
The Aussies fought on, calling sometimes dangerously close artillery strikes from New Zealand and U.S. positions. The outnumbered fought, surrounded, until an Australian relief force came out of the base to help their beleaguered mates. The NVA pressed an attack on the firebase using an entire regiment but were repulsed. Rather than sit and wait to be attacked again, the Aussies and New Zealanders went out to meet the enemy, this time with Centurion tanks. The battles for Coral-Balmoral went on like that for nearly a month: attack, counter-attack, attack counter-attack. The NVA had strength in numbers but the Aussies had pure strength.
Eventually the NVA would be routed and would avoid Nui Dat Province for as long as the Australians were defending it.
One of the Marine Corps’ greatest heroes had to earn his “butter bars” (as the rank of second lieutenant is called because the devices are yellow/gold in color) not once or twice, but three times before it stuck.
Lewis B. Puller dropped out of college in 1918 and joined the Marines in an attempt to get to France before World War I ended, but he was assigned to training new Marines in the states instead. He attended noncommissioned officer training as a corporal and was appointed to the Marine Officers Basic School. Upon graduation in 1919, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the reserves- butter bar #1.
Unfortunately, the war had wrapped up and the Marine Corps was downsized only 10 days later. Puller was placed on the inactive list.
In Nicaragua, Puller earned his first and second of five Navy Crosses and began climbing the officer ranks. After tours of the Pacific and a period training new Marine officers, he returned to combat in World War II and earned two more Navy Crosses. He also fought at Korea, leading the 1st Marine Regiment during the breakout from Chosin Reservoir and earning his fifth Navy Cross.
Over this 27-year period, Puller had made it to the rank of major general. He retired amid medical problems in 1955 and was granted a “tombstone promotion” to lieutenant general. These were promotions given selectively to troops with combat citations to confer extra prestige upon leaving the service, but they didn’t entitle the service member to any additional retirement pay. He died in 1971.